When the genocide began on April 7th, 1994, many ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus took refuge in churches, believing militias would not enter these areas which were perceived as sanctuaries. At the Nymata Catholic Church, located in the Bugesera district, 35 km south of the capital of Kigali, 10,000 people were killed in and around the grounds between April 14 – 19.Other large scale massacres occurred in Catholic Churches throughout the country as priests, nuns, and church officials systematically fled Rwanda after the genocide began. In some cases, priests and other officials were complicit in the killings.
The Bugesera district was one of the areas most devastated by the genocide. From a population of 62,000, only 2,000 survived. The photo below shows the front of the Nyamata church. People congregated there from all around. To protect themselves they padlocked the iron gate, hoping to keep the Hutu militias and their Interahamwe leaders at bay. Thwarted on the first attempt to take the church, the militias came back with grenades. The hole in the gate shows where one grenade was used to gain entry. The banner over the door reads:
If you knew me, and you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.
Inside, militias found thousands. The sanctuary below would have been overflowing beyond maximum capacity. Every space, concealed or open, was filledwith frightened people hoping to escape death. People were inside closets and cupboards, under the alter and under the floor boards, any place large enough to fit. The militias came in shooting. Daylight can be seen through the bullet holes in the ceiling.
Most would have preferred bullets to machetes. Nearly all were killed by machetes.
The blood stains on the walls – shoulder height throughout the building – are mostly faded.The fabric covering the alter still bares the staines.
Everyone in Rwanda had to carry an ID card like this one. Your photo goes on the left side, at the top center. Just below, in bold, is a spot to check your ethnicity. The edges are darkened with blood, and the hole is from a bullet.
The basement of the church now holds one of many mass graves. Eight others are accessible behind the church. This grave is typical. The entrance begins with twelve steep steps down.
Short narrow hallways go off to the left and right, a shoulder and a half wide. On each side, racks of skulls and bones cover floor to ceiling. Some of the graves have coffins, each filled with many sets of bones.
After release from prison, one of the genocide perpetrators revealed he had participated in a larger number of killings. The names of all his victims are listed on this plaque.
Copyright Adam Bacher. All rights reserved. Absolutely no use without prior authorization.
It looks so bitter to see the bones and skulls of innocent people.The description for these people enters in our feelings and comes out in tears.But people of wild, savage minds, full of levity,arrogance and presumptions without morals who led this genocide should not enjoy the comfort of court tribunals but serious condemnation greater than life sentence.
I came across your blog when I was searching for bullet holed ceilings for a video I was putting together on Rwanda for the same exact church you are writing about. We were not allowed to take photos inside, so the fact that I came across this, brought tears to my eyes. No matter how long it has been, no one will ever understand until they stand in such a place. Photos do bring it to the fore front and I feel very blessed to have found your site today so I may tell others about what I was a witness to in Rwanda.
[…] on earth would be a quite appropriate way in which to describe what I learned of today. Google Nyamata. Google Ntarama. Be prepared. I still feel fairly sad and tired after our visits. We went to […]
I wanted to thank you for sharing your documentation of these unimaginable atrocities. I visited Nyamata Church in February 2008 and left there feeling overwhelmed with grief. Viewing your site brought back memories of my own experience of standing in those narrow and claustrophobic hallways. After seeing the countless bones, I had trouble climbing up those twelve steps due to my legs shaking. In the end, my driver had to pull me up and I remember thinking that I never want to see anything like this ever again. It is important and necessary though that this is brought to the attention of the international world. Your contribution towards developing our awareness of a history that should never be repeated is deeply appreciated. Safe travels, Adam.
I think I never forget this post and the Nyamata Catholic Church because of these evidences of skulls and bones. Thanks for informing this.
It is haunting. It is unreal. I will never forget the bullet holes with the sun spots. Their voices are being heard through you. They are not forgotten.
You’re doing amazing, important work. I am glad that you are using this opportunity photographing in Rwanda to share the stories of the people there with so many people like me that have no clue what genocide really means, and the devastating effects it can have on its survivors. You are also capturing the recovery and this is an important story, too.
Take care and safe journey to you!
Hi Adam, I just read your Nov 2 Blog. Oh my God….it brought tears to my eyes and it was like a knife in my soul. I really appreciate the courage it took for you to see the pictures you took. How overwhelming it must have been for you.
I look forward to more stories and pics. I am still waiting for the story about the Gorillas!!!!
Powerful, Adam. Thank you for shedding light on this experience. Rwanda is no longer out of sight, out of mind, thanks to your visual documentation. Safe travels.
There are no words to describe how I feel after seeing all of those bones! Thanks again Adam for sharing . . . since not all of us have the ability to make it to Rwanda in person, we can see it through your camera lense!