Walking the mile and a half or so from our hotel to the Debre Berhan
Selassie Church, the town of Gondar, our last stop along Ethiopia’s historic
route, was living out its typical Sunday afternoon routine. Families and
friends talked in the street, men sat around drinking coffee at the cafes,
and goats wandered about in the warm sun.
We were on our way to see the famous little church with its angelic ceiling.
Soon enough we were paying the entrance fee and crossing the road to pass
through the gate into the church yard. We quickly went up the entrance and
removed our shoes. Stepping in, we looked up right away.
And there they were.
Heads of angels with beaming eyes covering the entire ceiling looked down
upon us. Red and blue backgrounds with light brown faces filled with big,
beautiful black onyx eyes and curly hair ran side to side, row after row
from one end of the church to the other. My wife decided to lay down on the
floor and look up. I followed her lead.
We couldn’t help but wonder if this is what heaven may feel like, a place
where angels watch over you. Watching over us, the angels of Debre Berhan
were the kind of comfort we all wished for when the bogey man was outside
our windows at night when we were kids.
The walls, too, were covered in paintings. The crucifixion. The devil and
hell. Many of the saints and scenes from the Bible stretched from corner to
corner no bigger than 50 feet long and 20 feet wide.
Sitting on a bench along the one wall, we sat back and took it all in,
observing the light coming in the top window. How wonderful it is to see
other lands. Paintings several centuries old.
The following morning we toured the Royal Enclosure, sometimes referred to
as Africa’s Camelot. Emperor Fasilades built the first castle inside the
walls back in 1640, and emperors that followed him built subsequent smaller
buildings, none coming close to the size and grandeur of Fasilades home. In
the grand dining room and its adjacent dance hall, we easily imagined the
big dinners and decadence that surely occured centuries ago. My wife stole
a dance from me, our bodies a silhouette against the large opened door.
We walked down the stone stairway, imagining the romances that may have
occurred after dinner, us falling in love with the idea of love.
The falling in love dream ended quickly when a group of aging Italian
tourists came onto the main lawn. Too much distraction. Up until then, we
had the entire Enclosure to ourselves. Fortunately, we were finishing up
That night at a local restaurant we marveled at the crowd of a hundred or so
spectators that gathered in the main dining area to watch the big soccer
game on the satellite TV. It was a game out of England, and the people paid
for a seat to watch the game much the way you would for a movie. Hooting,
hollering and clapping reminded me of home and going to a bar in a sports
town on a Sunday afternoon. Cheer on the team.
While leaving Gondar on the way to the airport, we talked to the taxi driver
about the current political situation in the country. He was angry that the
students were being killed and that men and boys were being rounded up by
the thousands and sent off to prison for no reason.
Other than fear.
I thought of the fear in the politicians that leads them to do such things.
And I thought of the fear in the men and boys on the backs of the trucks.
I wished that all of them, the accusers and the imprisoned, could lay down
together on the floor and look up at those angel eyes on the ceiling of that
little church in the mountains of their homeland. I thought that maybe,
just maybe, they could see through those eyes a way forward that need not be
violent and deadly.
I thought maybe all would see peace.
(written 5 February 2006)
I’ve just read your posting of Gondar’s Angel Eyes and I share your views … it’s really is a place worth visit … having unique painting style and passion …wanted to say a lot but don’t know how …. I am wondering if you went to the Simien Mountains as well…
Peace and Love!