Bet Mercurios (House of Saint Mercurios)

If Bet Gabriel-Rafael was the palace, then perhaps Bet Mercurios was the jail or the courtroom – no other church has evidence of iron shackles embedded in its surrounding trench.

This cave church is dedicated to Mercurious, a 3rd century Coptic saint who was tortured and beheaded for his Christian beliefs by the Emperor Decius, going onto play a starring role in the death of the apostate Emperor Julien a century later. The church is dilapidated, with a re-built entrance and a faded interior, but it’s approach via a 35 metre unlit tunnel from Bet Babriel-Rafeal is remarkable. Done without a torch, it is another of those tests of faith that Ethiopians specialise in and is said to mimic a passage through Hell, emerging into the light of the church.

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