Church Rift

The Gheralta Mountains are in Tigray Province of northern Ethiopia, the northern part of the East African Rift Valley.

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In the side of some of these mountains are more than 30 Orthodox cave churches from the 9th to 12th centuries.

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They are situated at the geographic and cultural centre of both the northern Aksum culture and the later Lalibela society further south.

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The rift is within the Africa tectonic plate itself, splitting into two along a north south line that began about 20 million years ago. This rifting process is forming a Somali Plate and a Nubian Plate.

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The churches are looking to the future when the new plates, which are separating at a rate of about 1cm a year, will eventually break away from one-another. This is the same process of sea-floor spreading found at mid-ocean ridges, and will eventually cause the more eastern Somali Plate to break off and a new ocean will form.