Coptic priest climbs 800 ft. cliff face to get to church every day


By Mark Ellis —

Climbing vertical section without ropes, barefoot (BBC screengrab)

Some pastors live in a manse and make a brief walk to church. Others hop in the car and drive a short distance. But this pastor in Ethiopia climbs an 800-foot vertical cliff face every day to get to the church he oversees.

“I do not get afraid when I climb to the church, because I climb every day. It is very difficult but I find it manageable,” Haylesilassie Kahsay a Coptic Christian priest, told the BBC.

He lives in a rugged area of Gheralta in northern Ethiopia and his church, St. Abuna Yemata, is perched in a cliff face above a frightening 250 meter (820 ft.) sheer drop to the valley floor.

It is said the church was quarried out of the rock by an Egyptian priest, Father Yemata, during the 6th Century A.D.

Father Kahsay awakens before dawn and works in his house until 6 am, then he packs a lunch and prepares for his rigorous climb.

Father Kahsay leaving his house early in the morning (BBC screengrab)

“When I leave home I become happy because I am walking towards Saint Abuna Yemata. I am happy from my heart,” he told the BBC.

The arduous journey, without ropes or even shoes, takes him about two hours. The climb includes one 10-meter (33 ft.) vertical section he scales like a seasoned mountaineer.

Church entrance is a small dot on the cliff face. Fr. Kahsay, in white, stands to the right of entrance (BBC screengrab)

When he reaches the top and unlocks the padlock leading into the ornately painted sanctuary, he devotes most of his day to studying ancient books. “I am happy reading my book(s) the whole day because it is very quiet there and there really isn’t anyone to talk to. You communicate with God and share your secrets with him and then your mind becomes free and happy.”

Entrance to cave church

“Your mind travels to whatever you choose to focus on,” he added. “If you read a spiritual book and understand the secret, it brings you joy. If you read and understand the Word of God it tastes as sweet as honey.”

Church interior (Lonely Planet Traveler)

Traditionally, the priests that oversee the church have also been laid to rest there. Not one of them has died making the perilous climb.

Church interior (Georgijus Korobkovas/Nat. Geographic)

Father Kahsay believes God and his saints have protected him and delivered him from many dangers. At sunset he locks up the church and retraces his steps down the mountain.

With his diligent study each day, he hopes to pass along God’s wisdom to his people, so they can follow His ways. “God’s deeds are perfect,” he noted.


  1. This week the Egytian Copt community opened a church in memory of the 21 Copts beheaded in Libya. The Egyptian Independent reported, via Religion of Peace: The Bishop of Samalut Church in Minya, Anba Befnosios, held Mass prayers on Thursday to mark the opening of ‘al-Shohadaa’ (Martyrs) Church in al-Our village, which is dedicated to 21 Coptic martyrs killed by the Islamic State (IS) in Libya, 2015. 20 of the Coptic martyrs had once been residents in Minya’s Samalut and Mattay villages, before they were kidnapped by militants in January 2015. A republican decree was subsequently issued in 2015 to open a church in their memory.

  2. I noticed today that you are interested in promoting missions. I would be grateful to receive prayer and I could write articles and the like but something tells me to first give you a sample of my writing after you have told me you might be interested. One thing I don’t ask for is money. Yesterday I was in a bit of a quandary because of lack of funds but I discovered a deposit of NZ$3,000 into my New Zealand bank account from a church with only about 15 members! Praise God.
    Here’s a brief summary.
    We have worked in Japan since 1960 planting churches. We are connected with a small but missionary-minded group with no official name but we are usually called open brethren.
    I lost my NZ wife Connie to cancer in 2010 and married a Japanese sister Yuko. I have 3 sons and 3 daughters and 13 grandchildren all based in Japan and some but not all are working for God keenly. I forgot. My granddaughter Harmony Goodall graduated from Christ for the Nations in Dallas two months ago and the Bible School asked her to work for them which she accepted.
    How’s that? Have a good day.
    Yours sincerely in the Lord Jesus,
    Richard Goodall

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