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    A spiritual gift

    23 Nov 2009


    Patriarchal in all senses. By M. Sayagues

    Patriarchal in all senses. By M. Sayagues

    What drives a 17-year-old girl to enter a monastery? Today she is 30, and still happy about her choice. Her eyes sparkle and her laughter comes easy. She exudes peace.

    I will call her Gabra (gift, in Amharic), for our conversation was private. I met her at a monastery near Lalibela, the mystical city of rock-hewn churches in northern Ethiopia.

    Monastic life has a long tradition and prestige in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The oldest monastery dates from the 6th century. A monastic renaissance between the 13th and 16th century brought great moral and political authority to clergy.

    Custodians of tradition

    Custodians of tradition

    Gabra’s rock-hewn monastery dates from the 12th century. Her room is excavated in the pink tufa rock. Two built-in-the-rock platforms, covered with a thin mattress, do as couch and bed. An old cupboard holds a few plates and cooking utensils, three of the long green robes worn by Ethiopian peasants, the white headscarves that nuns wear, and two pairs of sandals.

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