During the 12th Century, King Lalibela ordered the construction of a “New Jerusalem.” With this decree, the iconic churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia were hewn out of the hills into groups of interconnected sanctuaries. Now, centuries later, these holy grounds are both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a cultural treasure.
Here, in the arid mountains of northern Ethiopia, we find the site of the largest annual gathering of Christians in Africa. During Genna (Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas) pilgrims painstakingly travel from across all of Ethiopia to pray, reflect, and celebrate in and around the sanctuaries. Every January, the sleepy town of Lalibela swells from roughly 17,000 inhabitants to a whirlpool of 100,000 faithful pilgrims all donning white robes. With sermons, dancing, and song, Lalibela’s Genna celebration is the embodiment of Ethiopia’s spirit, a showcase of kindness that is infectious for all in attendance.
Lalibela Pilgrims (2020) is a photo essay that serves as a reaction to our time of deep social division, a time where many of us are entrenched in our own beliefs and unable to break from the “us vs. them” mentality. Lalibela Pilgrims is an attempt to develop the capacity to understand those who have beliefs that are fundamentally opposed to my own and to observe the ways others search for purpose, a quiet dialogue, and a way to assert our common humanity.