Almost all of Ethiopia’s ancient forests have been cleared to make way for farmland and pasture. It has been an environmental tragedy, with wild habitats lost on a vast scale. But there is hope: in some small pockets, ancient trees survive.
These last remaining ancient forests are found only around Ethiopia’s Orthodox churches. In these protected zones, Nature is kept in a state of reverence. Churchyards are invaluable oases for wildlife. The idea that a church should be surrounded by forest is part of Ethiopian Orthodox teaching: the belief being that they should in some small way resemble the Garden of Eden.
Stone walls have been built around these green islands, not to keep people out, but to protect against cattle-grazing. The wall defines the sacred space, and no believer would harm a tree that has been sanctified in this way.