Trinity Cathedral & Cemetery
More background info:
As is fairly often the case in Ethiopia
, it’s not so easy to get hold of truly reliable information about the history of this site. From what I gathered the most likely story is this. The building of the cathedral was begun in the late 1920s or early 1930s, possibly with emperor Haile Selassie himself laying the cornerstone. During the Italian invasion and Selassie’s exile from 1936 construction was halted, but soon after his return building work resumed and was completed in 1942.
The churchyard was partially dedicated to those who had fought against the Italian occupation, as well as for the patriarchs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as other prominent figures – see below
Apparently, this Holy Trinity Cathedral (to give its full title) is the second-most important church in Ethiopia – after the one in Aksum that is one of the alleged locations of the Ark of the Covenant … but I won’t go any deeper into Christian mythology here.
In November 2000, the remains of ex-emperor Haile Selassie were transferred to the cathedral in a grand procession and entombed in a big sarcophagus – 25 years after his death at the hands of the Derg (see Ethiopia
and Red Terror Museum
), who had simply buried the body in a secret location that was only discovered after the regime’s overthrow in 1991. Until 2000 the body had been “temporarily rested” in Bhata Church, which is the final resting place of Menelik II, possibly the most significant of Selassie’s predecessors.
Other members of the Imperial family are said to be buried in the crypt of Trinity Cathedral too, but I haven’t been able to ascertain this. Nor did I witness any of the exuberant displays of devotion that apparently many Ethiopian pilgrims show when coming here. The only slight indication was when one man from the church overheard my guide commenting on his remark “politics is dirty business” (referring to Meles Zenawi – see below) by demanding that we should all read the Bible instead and only the Bible … I did not get into an argument about this …
What there is to see: the cathedral building as such is large, but not as huge as some descriptions may lead you to expect, and is quite eclectic in style and features plenty of statues. The front is dominated by tall colonnades, to the north is a bell tower, and the centre features a copper-clad dome.
But the main point of interest from a dark perspective at the church itself is inside.
The interior is quite grand, though again not on a par with big European cathedrals. The painted walls and stained-glass windows (depicting biblical scenes) are mildly impressive, but the principal point of interest is in the north transept to the left of the altar: the tomb of ex-emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Menen. Both are entombed in giant red granite sarcophagi of identical design. I was told by my guide that Haile Selassie’s is the one on the right.
The inside of the central dome in the centre (with a giant chandelier hanging down the middle) features a large mural depicting Haile Selassie raising the Ethiopian flag surrounded by troops. And in front of the altar is a carved wooden throne with distinctive lion sculptures – presumably this was Haile’s too.
Nearby a plaque is worth mentioning, as it shows a St George slaying the dragon with an inscription underneath that expresses the emperor’s gratitude towards the British for their help in restoring Ethiopia’s freedom from Italian domination.
Outside the immediate surroundings of the cathedral are worth inspecting too, especially for the many graves of noteworthy people, but also some special commemorative monuments.
A particularly dark one is that dedicated to government members killed by the Derg in their takeover of power in 1974. Interestingly you cannot get close to this monument and I saw a soldier sitting by it apparently to make sure nobody does. I also read afterwards that taking photos of it was also prohibited (though nobody stopped me taking one from a distance), because just behind it across the street is the Office of the Prime Minister.
Close to the entrance to the complex is another British link, namely the grave of Sylvia Pankhurst, the suffragette pioneer of the early 20th century and later political activist against fascism and colonialism who eventually moved to Addis in 1956. After her death in 1960 she was given a grand state funeral and was declared an “honorary Ethiopian” by Selassie. Since 2017 her son Richard has also been buried here.
The most significant recent grave, located to the north of the cathedral, has to be that of Meles Zenaw
i, former Prime Minister until his sudden death in 2012, who had been instrumental in the TLPF’s resistance and eventual defeat of the Derg (see also under Mekele
). While he is often portrayed as a contemporary national hero, my guide was somewhat less enthusiastic about him, saying he did a lot for the Tigrayans but not necessarily as much for other ethnic groups. Oh well, that’s politics (see also above
Probably a lot less controversial is the tomb of a national sporting hero, a gold-medal-winning Olympic long-distance runner – a discipline at which this part of the world excels (not just Ethiopia, neighbouring Kenya too).
More obscure – at least for those who cannot decipher the Amharic script, are some of the other tombs in this part north of the cathedral, including various clearly military ones, with the tombstone featuring machine guns and such like. One even had a model of a fighter jet at its bottom!
Back by the entrance to the whole complex is another monument, this one commemorating the victims of a civilian air-crash disaster – it’s always somewhat disturbing to see such a site just before you’re going on a flight yourself (as I was the following day).
There is a museum within the grounds of the cathedral too, said to contain various religious items and gold crowns and such things, but when I was there I wasn’t aware of its existence and the guide never mentioned it, so I didn’t go inside and hence cannot say anything about this.
All in all, I found the visit to this site much more interesting than I had anticipated, also given that I’m normally not a big fan of religious buildings and had basically come here only for Selassie’s tomb, Pankhurst’s grave and the Derg victims monument, but didn’t even know at the time there were so many other significant graves here … or that air-crash monument. So I can definitely recommend this as a very worthwhile addition to the city’s other dark attractions. Not to be missed.
right in the government quarter, adjacent to the Parliament, in the north-east of central Addis Ababa
Access and costs: easy as part of a city tour, otherwise trickier; an admission fee is charged.
Details: if you’re going on a guided city tour of Addis, this is highly likely to be included in any case, as it is one of the prime sights of the city. But if not, getting there could be a little tricky, as it’s a long way from any metro stops or tourist hotels. So getting a taxi may be your best bet. The approach road to the cathedral branches off Niger Street just north of the Parliament, to the east.
Opening times: daily from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 to 6 p.m. (the adjacent museum apparently closes two hours earlier)
Admission: if you’re on a guided city tour any fees will most likely be included, but otherwise it’s said to be ca. 3-5 USD, plus potentially an extra charge for photography (my guidebook said 2.50 USD, but I was never asked to pay anything extra).
You have to take your shoes off to visit the inside of the Cathedral.
Time required: ca. 30-45 minutes
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Addis Ababa
. Trinity Cathedral is likely to be a standard stop on any longer city tour so will also most likely naturally combine with a visit to the Red Terror Museum
. But to see the Tiglachin Monument
as well you’ll probably have to specially request this.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Addis Ababa
- Trinity Cathedral 01 - front facade
- Trinity Cathedral 02 - interior
- Trinity Cathedral 03 - Biblical scenes
- Trinity Cathedral 04 - flags
- Trinity Cathedral 05 - main dome
- Trinity Cathedral 06 - hail Haile Selassie
- Trinity Cathedral 07 - throne
- Trinity Cathedral 08 - Haile Selassie sarcophagus
- Trinity Cathedral 09 - grateful plaque
- Trinity Cathedral 10 - back outside
- Trinity Cathedral 11 - probably a Bible reader
- Trinity Cathedral 12 - cemetery
- Trinity Cathedral 13 - monument to early victims of the Derg
- Trinity Cathedral 14 - Pankhurst grave
- Trinity Cathedral 15 - Meles Zenawi tomb
- Trinity Cathedral 16 - Olympic runner tomb
- Trinity Cathedral 17 - military presence
- Trinity Cathedral 18 - with a fighter jet model
- Trinity Cathedral 19 - plane crash victims monument