Mar: The Holy Honey Healing ritual of Ethiopia’s honey churches

Rock-hewn churches of Lalibela -- Image source:

“Honour physicians for their services for the Lord created them; for their gifts of healing came from the Most High, and they are rewarded by the King…The Lord created medicine out of the Earth and the sensible will not despise them. Was not water made sweet by a tree so that its power might be known? And he gave skills to human beings that he may be glorified in his marvellous works. By them the physician heals and takes away pain; the pharmacist makes a mixture from them. God’s works will ever be finished, and from him, health spreads all over the Earth.” – An excerpt from the Book of Sirach.

Lalibela is regarded as the Christian capital of Ethiopia because she is home to Bilbila Kirqos, Bilbila Giorgis and Beta Ammanuel; three major ancient Ethiopian spiritual centres that are not only havens for the holy bees whose Holy Honey are reported to possess healing properties used for remedying physical and psychological ailment alike, but are also Lalibela’s major tourist attraction sites that draw persons from all walks of life who mainly come to experience the churches and partake in the Holy Honey ritual.

Bilbila Kirqos, Bilbila Giorgis and Beta Ammanuel are the three major spiritual churches situated some 65 kilometres north of Ethiopia’s Lalibela. The historical narrative concerning these churches is an interesting one.

Legend has it that a swarm of bees led King St. Kaleb who ruled Axum in the 6th century (514-543) to the present location of the churches aforementioned. The bees later inhabited the churches after they were constructed. In Bilbila Kirqos for instance, it is said that the bees occupied the seven windows of the church building, however, most of them took flight leaving only one window occupied over the years. In Bilbila Giorgis, the bees took up its four windows that were representative of the four evangelists; Mattew, Mark, Luke and John. Reports say that the four windows are still homes to the bees. The bees who took up home in Beta Ammanuel deserted it completely in ensuing years.

Mar is a healing tradition within the churches of Ethiopia’s Lalibella vicinity where the Holy Honey produced by the bees are used in healing rituals for persons suffering from both physical and psychological ailments. They are usually administered by the head clergy of the church in question.

Given persons suffering from skin diseases, the Holy Honey is applied to the area on the skin where the ailment has taken root amidst prayers and chanting of hymns. The Holy Honey can also be eaten in its pure state or mixed with Holy Water to be drunk by the ‘patient’ in question.

The custodians of Lalibela’s spiritual churches reveal that the bees produce two types of honey namely; white honey and red honey. These categories of honey do not bear on their functional properties anyhow as they both share similar curative properties.

The churches’ Holy Honey store is not for sale. A folklore amongst the Ethiopians speaks of an ancient priest of the Bilbila Kirqos who took some of the Holy Honey to go sell. On his way, he was attacked by a swarm of bees and thus forced to take the Holy Honey back to the temple.

The curative and healing properties of the honey produced by the bees inhabiting Lalibela’s churches held curative properties when in 488 AD during Bilbila Giorgis’s first congregation, a swarm of bees invaded the temple and set up their home in it. The miracle happened when the bees produced their first bout of honey the next day after they have settled in. Inspired by the short length of time with which the bees produced the honey, elders of the church came together and tasted of it. In their curiosity-driven experimentation, it was discovered that the ailing amongst them received their generous measure of healing, and so begun the Holy Honey Healing Ritual of Lalibela’s spiritual centres.

A brief documentary on the Honey Churches of Ethiopia.
Video Credit: YouTube.

Ethiopia’s long-standing Holy Honey Healing Ritual has not only brought physical and psychological liberation to Ethiopians as well as persons from all walks of life, but has also improved upon the tourist industry of Ethiopia’s Lalibela.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: July 11, 2019


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