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Courtesy of 

Gali Tibbon

Ann Lesley BarTur Award

Gali Tibbon

Highly Commended

Gali Tibbon is an independent photographer based in Jerusalem. With more than a decade of experience in photojournalism in the Middle East, her work has taken her on assignments in Turkey, Cuba, Egypt, Jordan, Ethiopia, China, Spain and Ukraine. In recent years Gali has been exploring the theme of religion focussing on faith through pilgramage and rituals, documenting the various Christian denominations in Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre, baptism in the Jordan River, the ancient Samaritans, Ethiopian Christianity and pilgrimages across Europe.

Journey to Jerusalem of Africa

Lalibela, Ethiopia

2011 - 2020

Ethiopian Christian faith radiates between 2 cities: Jerusalem and Lalibela, in Northern Ethiopia. ‘Jerusalem of Africa’ is one of the names given to Lalibela.

A sacred journey into a biblical world hidden in East Africa in Ethiopia’s highlands- Lalibela- famous for its unique 12th-century monolithic churches carved out of the “living rock”, as legend has, it was built with more than a little help of the angels.

It is named after King Lalibela, who ordered the construction after Muslims took the Holy Land and the Christian pilgrims could no longer make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Ethiopian faithful make a pilgrimage to Lalibela at least once in their lifetime.

The Ethiopians have a long association with Jerusalem dating back to King Solomon:

Ethiopian emperors claimed a line of descent from Solomon as a result of his union with the Queen of Sheba.

Unlike other UNESCO heritage sites, it is not an archeological site but a living compound of churches serving the local community and the pilgrims who come every orthodox Christmas . From the day it was built to our times.

According to scholars, the churches were built from a cosmopolitan mystical understanding of the Christian religion, and it may be the most mystical of all Christian sites. It is fascinating how Lalibela's art works and architecture hint at doctrines found in Ancient Greece and some ancient Egyptian religions.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is an ancient church that developed uniquely and indigenously, free from western influence, which developed into a special and independent church like no other in the Orthodox world.

As the only pre-colonial Christian church in sub-Saharan Africa, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded when pagan emperors ruled Rome.

Every year thousands of pilgrims make their way to sacred Lalibela by bus or by foot to celebrate Christmas. Fascinated by their devotion, I joined the pilgrimage, its faithful worshippers, and the rituals and ceremonies, some of which are very ancient and preserved to this day, seem almost to illustrate the Old Testament.

In the days ahead of Christmas, Lalibela becomes the beating heart of Ethiopian Orthodox faith. Tens of thousands of white-clad worshippers flock through tunnels and passageways connecting the churches, rushing from shrine to shrine in their quest to visit all holy sites.

Priests in traditional Shammas and white turbans bearing prayer sticks and sistrums (percussion instruments) sing and dance to the sound of African drums all night. At dawn, large processional golden crosses and icons are brought out to the sound of ululations from the devout crowds celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

It is a truly biblical scene.

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