Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Michael A. Raynor at the launch of a book “Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom”

Remarks by
Michael Raynor 
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at the launch of a book “Ethiopia: the living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom”
U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa
January 22, 2018

(As prepared for delivery)

Good Evening, and welcome!

Your Excellency the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Dr. Hirut Woldemariam,

Your Holiness Abune Matthias, Patriarch of Ethiopia, Archbishop of Axum, Echegue of the See of Saint TekleHaimanot

Your Graces Archbishop Samuel and Archbishop Aregawi

Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church,

Colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends

Thank you all so much for being here tonight.

One of the greatest joys of being assigned to a diplomatic posting in Ethiopia is having the luxury of time to get to know the extraordinary history and culture of this amazing country.

And one of the great privileges of being here as Ambassador is that I sometimes have the chance to promote greater worldwide awareness of Ethiopia’s cultural richness, and to support Ethiopia in its singular role as the source and custodian of so much of the world’s religious, cultural, historical, and natural heritage.

I had that privilege just a few days ago, when I was at Fasil Pool in Gondar to witness Timket in its most impressive, solemn, and joyous expression.

I didn’t jump in the pool myself, but I did get soaked with holy water by a hose-wielding bishop, who seemed to feel I had a lot of sins to atone for.

Ethiopia is quite wisely seeking to have the Timket celebration in Gondar inscribed onto UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list, and having seen the event in person, I can’t imagine that this effort won’t meet with success.

I hope to have the privilege of supporting Ethiopia’s cultural heritage again in a few days, when I am scheduled to travel to Lalibela to inaugurate our latest project to help preserve some of the spectacular churches there.

And I am truly happy and honored to have that privilege tonight, when we celebrate the Ethiopian launch of a truly magnificent book:   “Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom.”

This book is a monumental accomplishment: at 544 pages, more than 800 photographs, and weighing in at 9.2 pounds, or over 4 kilos.

But this book is much more than the sum of its statistics.

In tracing the history, legends, art, and faith of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, it covers the churches and monasteries of Aksum and Tigray, Lalibela and Lasta, Gondar and Lake Tana, describing in rich and vibrant detail the architecture, colorful decorations, and important Orthodox religious festivals of Ethiopia.

It is destined, I am sure, to significantly boost worldwide awareness and appreciation of these amazing treasures, and I expect it will motivate many more people to come and see these magnificent paces for themselves.

Some of the driving forces behind this landmark volume are here with us tonight.

You will be hearing from them shortly, but please join me in welcoming author Mary Anne Fitzgerald and photographer Nigel Pavitt.

On TV screens around the residence tonight, you’ll see a sampling of spectacular photographs from the book taken by Nigel and his colleagues.

Cultural heritage endures as a reminder to us all of the richness of our shared history and humanity, and as an opportunity to celebrate our past achievements and to preserve our enduring traditions.

The United States, and my embassy colleagues here in Addis, are honored to work with Ethiopia to celebrate and preserve Ethiopia’s uniquely deep and rich legacy, and to help ensure that this legacy is known, valued, and preserved for the benefit of all of us here today and all of us to come, not only in Ethiopia but across the globe.

In addition to lending this residence and our support to wonderful occasions like the one tonight, we do this through a program called the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.

To date, this fund has supported nine projects throughout Ethiopia, including most recently the restoration of two thirteenth-century rock-hewn UNESCO World Heritage churches in Lalibela.

Our newest project, which we hope to will launch at the end of this week, will preserve two more of Lalibela’s magnificent churches for generations to come.

Both of our Lalibela conservation projects involve training local craftsmen on how to use innovative and non-intrusive techniques to preserve the churches.

These methods are invisible:  they do not make use of shelters over the churches as currently exist at some of the other Lalibela churches, and these methods have no negative impacts on the structural integrity or atmosphere of these sacred sites.

As such, we hope these innovative techniques and training methods will serve as a model for future conservation work in Ethiopia and beyond.

In all of our engagements in support of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage, we are honored to partner with the leadership of Ethiopia’s government as well as its religious and cultural institutions, some of whom are present tonight.

In that regard, I am sincerely grateful to

  • Her Excellency Dr. Hirut, Minister for Culture and Tourism;
  • His Holiness Abune Matthias, Patriarch of Ethiopia, Archbishop of Axum, Echegue of the See of Saint TekleHaimanot,
  • Archbishop Samuel,
  • Archbishop Aregawi,
  • Re’ise Deber Mahari Haylu,
  • Memhir Goitom Yayinu of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church;
  • Yonas Desta and Hailu Zeleke of the Authority for the Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage;
  • Fasil Ghiroghis and Issayus Gebreyohannes of the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development; and
  • Stephen Battle of the World Monuments Fund

Thank you all — not only for your presence here tonight, but for allowing us the privilege of working with you in support of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage.

And I would like to thank all of you here tonight as well, for joining in this celebration and for your efforts to celebrate and preserve Ethiopia’s cultural richness.

Apart from the partnerships between the United States and Ethiopia in this area, I would like to acknowledge with admiration the great work being done to promote and preserve Ethiopia’s cultural heritage by the Government of Ethiopia; its cultural, religious, and historical institutions; my colleagues in the Diplomatic Corps, many of whom have dynamic cultural preservation programs of their own; and by private organizations and individuals as well – including those behind the wonderful book we’re celebrating tonight.

Together, we will ensure that Ethiopia’s inspiring and essential cultural heritage is preserved and celebrated going forward.

Thank you all again for being here tonight, and please have a wonderful evening.