It was sunrise and pilgrimage time. We hiked dangerous paths whilst braving winds that could easily toss us over the edge. The Gheralta churches are carved into the highest mountain peaks in the area. I was told they was put there to get closer to god. With my heart in my mouth, we waited on a two meters squared rock, sheer drops on each side. There were pilgrims yet to exit the church and about eight of us perched there, shuffling and gripping to anything we could, as people made their way past. There was a elderly woman too, she must have been about 80 years old, returning from her visit to the Priest. I offered her a hand, but was greeted with her walking stick slapping it away.
When we followed our guide around the corner, we entered a cave. Our eyes adjusted to the darkness, and it was then things became surreal. The roof was filled with Byzantine paintings, the kind you’d find in an ancient basilica. We stood there inside a finger of a mountain, in the middle of Africa, looking at these paintings that looked just like the ones you might find in Greece or Venice, their colors still vibrant. When we left, flabbergasted, the Pilgrims had already gone. We watched the canyon, and felt like the only people in the world. There was a stillness in the air, and even though I’m not religious, the experience felt truly spiritual.
Photos and words. Rudi Geyser
Editing. Valerie Steenhaut