Remarks by Ambassador Patricia Haslach at the Inauguration of a Cultural Heritage Perseveration project at Yemrehanna Kristos

Remarks by

Patricia Haslach

U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia

At the Inauguration of a Cultural Heritage Perseveration project

At Yemrehanna Kristos

U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa


 (As prepared for delivery)

Komos Aba Wolde Cherkos – Administrator of the Church,

Ms. Adera Chane – Department Head, Office of Culture and Tourism,

Elders of the Land, religious leaders, community leaders, government officials, women and youth leaders, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your warm welcome for my colleagues and me, both here in Yemrehanna Kristos and in Lalibela.

It gives me great pleasure to be with you today to announce a new Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation grant from the U.S. government to the Ethiopian government and people. This grant will help support the preservation of the magnificent church at Yemrehanna Kristos by enabling an assessment of the church to determine what work may be necessary to help preserve it for future generations.

The United States recognizes the importance of cultural heritage and the importance of preserving a nation and the global community.  We also understand the importance of supporting cultural heritage in building durable bonds between nations based on common values.  It is for this reason that in July 2001, the United States Congress established this cultural grant program to enable American Ambassadors to highlight both the heritage and culture of the countries in which they serve.

Since the establishment of the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation Award, over the last decade the American government has relied on this fund to support hundreds of projects around the world, including very important ones in Ethiopia, including:

n  A needs assessment for the restoration and maintenance of the Yeha Temple in Tigray;

n  The conservation of the historical castle at Guzara in Gondar;

n  The conservation and consolidation of the Sheikh Nur Hussein Shrine in Oromia;

n  Installing structural support for the Hager Fikir Theatre in Addis Ababa, the oldest indigenous playhouse on the continent of Africa;

n  The restoration of the historic Mohammed Ali house in Addis Ababa;

n  The preservation of Teferi Mekonnen’s Palace in Harar;

n  And, close to home here, the preservation of the Beti Gebrael and Rafael Churches in Lalibela.

I am proud that our proposal to help preserve the church at Yemrehanna Kristos received funding from the Department of State this year.  I would like to congratulate the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage and the World Monuments Fund, both represented here today, for working with the U.S. Embassy to secure this funding, a grant in the amount of USD 150, 000, or over 3 million Ethiopian Brr.

The Church of Yemrehanna Kristos is among the most important and impressive heritage sites in Ethiopia.  Although the building has been protected and sheltered by a cave, and is in relatively good condition for a structure of its age, a number of serious problems have become evident. The project that won the funding has shown that there is evidence internally of structural instability in the form of structural deformation, cracks, and plaster loss, including the loss of painted plaster. A thorough structural investigation is an urgent prerequisite to establishing the risks to the building and its wall paintings, and to focusing future conservation efforts.

The preservation work includes the following main components:

n  To carry out a conditions survey of the building to determine the level of threat, and establish preservation priorities;

n  To create a detailed data model of the building using laser-scanning;

n  To set up a monitoring system to determine the extent and activeness of any structural movement;

n  To undertake a wide-ranging assessment of the condition and deterioration of the wall paintings and internal decorations as a basis for developing and implementing an informed conservation strategy, incorporating both passive and remedial measures.

This grant from the United States government will support Ethiopia’s efforts to preserve its significant historical and cultural heritage, and will support the efforts of the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, which is the national body responsible for heritage in Ethiopia, to promote the site and link it to the much-visited destination at Lalibela.

With diplomatic relations between our two countries now well into their second century, the kind of activities that this grant makes possible help build bridges between our peoples; in helping to preserve for future generations one of Ethiopia’s unique historic and cultural treasures, we are also deepening the ties that connect us.

The U.S. Government’s support for the restoration of Yemrehanna Kristos demonstrates our respect for the cultural heritage of the people of Ethiopia, and I am very proud that my government has provided the funding to do this important work.  I strongly believe that this project will also help draw attention to a site which is not only a part of Ethiopia’s national historic heritage, but also a symbol of Ethiopian civilization during the 11th and 12thcenturies AD.

The Lalibela rock-hewn churches, including Yemrehanna Kristos, are considered as an integral part of the sacred geography of Ethiopia.  Traditionally, the people of Ethiopia have crossed religious boundaries easily both in pilgrimages and through the veneration of saints.  The participation of Christians at Muslim celebrations and vice versa is a social fact that makes Ethiopia unique.  Muslims celebrating at Qullubi or Christians visiting Islamic shrines dramatically illustrate Ethiopia’s tradition of tolerance and mutual coexistence.

Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, we are honored to support and be a part of this very important project.  To those who will take on the task of preserving and protecting this historic site, you have the Embassy’s good wishes and support as you approach the project, and I, along with all my colleagues, look forward to learning more about the progress and success of the project as it is carried out.

Thank you.