Update by Bruce Strachan

As one of Africa’s significant heritage sites the Washa-Mik’ael rock-hewn church is of tremendous historic, cultural and religious worth. Recent actions taken to concurrently excavate and protect the site are therefore greeted with enthusiasm.

The following points are inconclusive observations only, and the author very much welcomes additional constructive comment to enhance understanding:

  • Reinforced-concrete foundations of a shelter are being constructed around the site. When complete this structure’s purpose would be to protect Washa-Mik’ael from the locality’s heavy seasonal rains. The success of this scheme will be determined by how effectively the structure is able to divert rainfall from the site.
  • Removal of invasive root systems from structural cracks is a positive development and should protect structure from further damage in near term.
  • Archeological excavation of one meter of soil at eastern edge of structure P1150013suggests that Washa-Mik’ael’s architect’s intent was to conceive a monolithic structure – not semi-monolithic, as was earlier suspected.
  • Drainage pipe, placed at the west of the site (just beyond tunnel) may be inadequate to divert anticipated volume of rain accumulation.
  • Excavation of area immediately surrounding the upright monolithic slab (north west corner of site) is reported by the site’s guide* to have uncovered human bone fragments. This information, if confirmed, seems to support speculation that the object’s function may have been to serve as a formal burial site. Best to await the forthcoming official report however as there are many layers of history associated with site. The bones uncovered therefore could have been interred during an informal phase of the church’s history.
  • Since the 2011 survey new damage has been found within architectural details of the site.
    While this is highly regrettable the extent is limited and the cause is indeterminable.
  • Findings of incomplete skeletal remains in southwest section of structure may indicate structural collapse during the construction phase.** A carbon dating examination of these remains is therefore urged, as this would likely yield reliable data as to when collapse occurred. It is furthermore advocated that a proper Orthodox burial also be performed for the remains of the deceased.
  • The overall assessment of this update/report concludes that conservation progress at the Washa-Mik’ael site has been positive and should continue with compulsory caution.



Local resident and Washa-Mich’ael guide Ato Mechal reveals what are believed to be human skeletal remains uncovered in the northwest of the structure. These may hold the answer as to when the structure collapsed.

* Until an official authorised report becomes available it should be noted that while Washa-Mich’ael’s guide is an informed individual, he is not a spokesperson for the formal government sponsored excavation/conservation effort. Information provided by him or likewise this blog, while intended to be educational, is nevertheless strictly unofficial.  

** It is understood that several phases of construction almost certainly occurred at the Washa-Mik‘ael site over various and prolonged periods. Until carbon dating is performed on the skeletal fragments however it remains unknown from which phase the remains in question derive.


Bruce Strachan has written extensively about the Washa-Mich’ael church for the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (Universität Hamburg), The Nation (Kenya), Cornerstone – the Journal of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (London), Selamta, The Journal of the Friends of Ethiopian Studies, and the Journal of Medieval African Studies. He has also lectured on the subject at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at the University of Addis Ababa. Strachan has also appeared in a 2010 Ethiopian Television documentary citing the site’s urgent need for conservation intervention.