ETHIOPIA: Rock Churches ...LALIBELA


Advertisement
Ethiopia's flag
Africa » Ethiopia » Amhara Region » Lalibela
November 27th 2011
Published: November 27th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

ETHIOPIA: Rock-Hewn Churches...LALIBELA.

Many years ago...like...millions of years ago...a volcano erupted and spewed its guts over part of what is the Amhara region of Northern Ethiopia.

Considering its proximity to the Rift Valley...and proliferation of volcanic activity in milleniums past...not that surprising you say.

But this volcano left a flow of lava ...later divided by the River Jordon...that was later exploited in an attempt to create a "New Jerusalem."

Sounds whacky...if it was not true!

In 1185 A.D. a baby was born...which attracted a honey bee...who called his mates...and a swarm of bees surrounded the bub.

The baby's mother unperturbed...naturally regarded it as a good omen for the future of the child.

"He'll be King of Ethiopia one day" she surmized ...and of course she was right..!

She named the child Lalibela...which means "the bee recognises his sovereignty"...and as it turned out...the bee was not the only one..!

From about the end of the first millenium A.D., as Muslim powers were challenging Axumite control of the Red Sea...and Axum's control of the ivory & gold trade, the Axumite Empire moved south into the rich grazing areas of the Agew people...establishing military colonies.

During 900 to 1000 A.D. chronicles record continual warfare in the region and the Axumite Empire was eroding. Agew armies were needed to survive...integrating into Axumite culture.

And then the Agew took over.

The new rulers were from the Mountains of Lasta...long a part of the Christian kingdom...founding the Zagwe Dynasty.

But the Axumites claimed descent from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon...Who do these Agew (Zagwe) usurpers think they are?

(See my blog "Reviving the Axumite Empire.")

So...not into one-upmanship...no...didn't cross their minds...the Zagwe claimed descent from Moses..!

In the 12th Century A.D. an angel instructed King Lalibela to carve 11 churches out of the volcanic tuff...the lava flow I refer to earlier...at his then capital Roha...with instructions as to construction...and that he did...to show the majesty of God...and the majesty of his Zagwe Dynasty.

That place is now known as Lalibela...a place of pilgrimage and legend.

Legend says Lalibela had been in exile in Jerusalem in his youth and vowed on his return he would build a new Jerusalem.

Another says he attempted to build a new Jerusalem as a consequence of the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin's Muslim armies in 1187.

Legend or not...he named the stream running through Lalibela...the River Jordon.

The churches...cut out and liberated out of solid rock...were chiselled, carved, shaped and hollowed...connected by a maze of tunnels...in record time.

Stone masons came from Egypt and the Holy Land to assist.

Legend says angels also assisted the construction...doing double the work a man could do...hastening completion.

The result was a collection of monolithic, rock-hewn churches...in many ways unrivalled...a collection of sacred architecture.

I bring the time clock forward about 900 years...when a 21st Century man...on his own personal pilgrimage

...seeking Prester John at Gondar

...seeking the Fountain of Youth at Bahir Dar

...seeking to revive the Axumite Empire at Axum

...seeking enlightenment at Timket at Lalibela

...stumbled through those tunnels in the volcanic rock under Lalibela...popped his head through a hole into daylight...and met the Gate-Keeper...my opening picture.



THE ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES OF LALIBELA


There are actually 13 such churches...11 cut from living rock (in Lalibela) and 1 built in a cave nearby and 1 on the mountain behind...all still active places of worship...all available to visit...except for one...men only in that one!

I was captivated that the churches were carved with straight walls and flat, level floors...but the outer access areas on occasion were not flat...but hollowed passages with no effort at neat paths.

Some had scarcely room for one's feet while others had wide chiselled flat courtyards...seemed incongrous to me.

All had ingenious drainage.

The tunnels were all rounded and roughly carved...smoothed humps from use over the centuries.

And before we entered...shoes off...left outside the door...under the care of Birara...the shoe keeper...then when we enter...greeted by its Guardian Priest...welcoming us within.



The Rock-Hewn Churches are classified in 4 groups.


The Northern Group


Bet Medhane Alem...The House of the Holy Saviour

...the largest monolithic church in the World...the home of the Lalibella Cross...external colonnades on all 4 sides (34 rectangular columns), supported by a gable roof (stone of course).

Possibly Greek influence but with windows in Axumite design...the interior including 4 rows of 7 rectangular pillars.


Bet Maryam...The House of Mary

...the Virgin Mary venerated in Ethiopia...possibly the oldest.

In a
HERMIT"S HOMEHERMIT"S HOMEHERMIT"S HOME

Bet Meskel
courtyard of 3 churches. Beautifully carved with St George fighting the dragon, birds, animals and tracery...windows in various designs.


Bet Meskel...The House of the Cross

...a small chapel including four internal arches.


Bet Danaghel...The House of Virgin Martyrs

...in memory of the massacre of nuns by Roman Emperor Julien in the 4th Century.


Bet Golgotha...The House of Golgotha...Men Only

...twin church with Bet Mikael...accessed by a tunnel from the courtyard of Bet Maryam...known for its fine examples of early Ethiopian art and as the possible tomb of King Lalibela.

Inside on a wall is a relief carving of Christ...called The Tomb of Christ.

There are other treasures...men only..!


Bet Mikael...The House of St Mikael

...twin church with Bet Golgotha...serving as the ante-roon for the Selassie Chapel...one of Ethiopia's most sacred places...containing 3 rock altars...adorned with angels.


The Tomb of Adam

...in front of the western wall of Bet Golgotha...a giant hollowed-out stone.


The Western Group


Bet Giyorgis...The House of St George

...shaped like a Greek Cross...cut into the top of a hill...alone in its glory...chiselled 15 metres down into the rock to retain that shape...probably the best known.


The Eastern Group


Bet Gabriel-Rufael...The House of St Gabriel and St Raphael

...maybe a former royal palace...accessed up a stone ramp called "the Way to Heaven"...then into a hollowed ante-room lined with Axumite symbol...then across a stone slab bridge.

Some say it was a fortified palace from the 7th or 8th Century.


Bet Merkorios...The House of Mercury

...maybe a former prison or law court...as shackles found inside.

In honour of the Roman god, Mercury...who killed a non-believer Ethiopian King...mmmm.

Reached by a tunnel from Bet Gabriel-Rufael...to this church affected by collapse...supported by scaffold.


Bet Amanuel...The House of Emanuel

...possibly the royal chapel...exquisitely carved...very Axumite.

Can be accessed by tunnel from Bet Gabriel-Rufael and Bet Merkorios.


Bet Abba Libanos...The House of Abba Libanos

...unique among Lalibela churches as only the roof and floor and left wall are rock-hewn...the right wall constructed of brick.

Legend says it was constructed by King Lalibela's wife, Meskel Kebra...in one night...no more...assisted by angels...of course..!


The Outer Group


Ashetan Maryam

...90 minutes steep climb up the mountain behind Lalibela...the mountain in my Panorama photo...closer to heaven...so worth the climb...and commanding views.


Ne'akuto Le'ab

...built in a cave halfway up a mountain...staggering views therefrom...the water dripping from the cave roof collected as holy water.

Fabulous treasures of crowns, crosses, adorned drums and an ancient bible...reputed as belonging to Empress Zewditu.


And further out...some churches that are older than Lalibela's...6th Century and beyond...but these are for someone else's story.


As I danced through Lalibela for Timket (see previous blog) and its rock churches...I reached enlightenment...and to my surprise...I was doubley blessed...I attained...

Rhythm...Ethiopian style










...but...that's another story.

Relax and Enjoy,

Dancing Dave



****Scroll to the bottom of the page and press "Next" for further pages of photos****






























Additional photos below
Photos: 117, Displayed: 28


Advertisement

BET MEDHANE ALEMBET MEDHANE ALEM
BET MEDHANE ALEM

Canopied to protect this UNESCO site
BET MEDHANE ALEMBET MEDHANE ALEM
BET MEDHANE ALEM

Greek temple style but decoration very Axumite
BET MEDHANE ALEMBET MEDHANE ALEM
BET MEDHANE ALEM

Very Axumite
HERMIT HOMEHERMIT HOME
HERMIT HOME

Bet Medhane Alem
BET MEDHANE ALEMBET MEDHANE ALEM
BET MEDHANE ALEM

Axumite windows
AWAITING THE ARKAWAITING THE ARK
AWAITING THE ARK

Inside Bet Medhane Alem
BET DANAGHELBET DANAGHEL
BET DANAGHEL

The House of Virgin Martyrs
BET MARYAMBET MARYAM
BET MARYAM

The exterior gives no clue that inside is exquisite
INSIDE BET MARYAMINSIDE BET MARYAM
INSIDE BET MARYAM

Exquisitely carved interior...all one piece of rock...


27th November 2011

A beautiful place :)
These churches remind me of some of the rock hewn temples that I saw at Ellora in India. Despite the fact that Ethiopia is a developing country, it is wonderful to see that unflinching faith and spiritual belief is still well and truly alive. Then again, with a rich tapestry of religious history going back thousands of years, should I really be surprised? :) Another great blog Dave!
30th November 2011

THANKS NICK
The faith & passion required to cut buildings out of solid rock...even if directed by angels...inspiring. I was happy with the photos...yet they cannot convey the awesomeness of the place. This blog is possibly the most comprehensive collection of photos of the rock churches of Lalibela...so I hope others will see and enjoy.
29th November 2011

Ethiopia is an unfolding surprise...
what a fascinating history Ethiopia has... a country whose profile is often limted to famine & war - thank you for the different perspective. Oh & great photos -I'm amazed at the accuracy & detail that is hewn out of solid rock.
30th November 2011

THANKS LAILA
Thank you for being my dance partner through Ethiopia...and for my quests...and teaching me the Tuareg way! Ethiopia...my jewel of Africa.
5th December 2011

Where did the year go.....
Another great blog. I am in touch with Birara fairly regularly - do you mind if I send him the links to your blogs? My taxi driver in LA the other night was born in Gondar and we have a good long conversation (LA traffic saw to that) about his home and mutual admiration for all the places that we have visited in his home town. I was so excited to have spoken to someone about Ethiopia and in English having just spent the last 6 weeks in Spanish speaking countries. Regards, Ros.
6th December 2011

ROS...SAY HI TO BIRARA FROM US
Are you back from Cuba? Great to hear from you. Please send Birara the link to my blogs...our hero of Lalibela. They receive some interest in Ethiopia...so hope he can enjoy them. Listening to Idrissa Soumaore as I write this...so still dreaming.
10th December 2011
AWAITING THE ARK

Whoa.
This pic is great!
16th January 2012

greeting!
Great thanks for the Lord for your in love of Christ with amazing grace with us injoy and wells of the water and the milk will flow fro heaven right now by faith and by miracles moving among us thanks and bless an djoy,forour Jesus is coming soon,thanks and bless,keijo sw eden
6th May 2012
THE TOMB OF ADAM

Thanking u.............
Dear discoverers of the tomb of adam i was felt very happy because of your discoveries all people they can able to believe the bible and our savior thanks to u............send me some more discoveries on bible.....praise the lord,
24th November 2013
AWAITING THE ARK

Nice photography...will read more of your blogs...
25th November 2013
AWAITING THE ARK

THANKS HENRY
Hope you enjoy my Ethiopia blogs. I have many special stories & photos that it is my pleasure to share.

Tot: 0.454s; Tpl: 0.017s; cc: 44; qc: 198; dbt: 0.145s; 198; m:apollo w:www (50.28.60.10); sld: 1; ; mem: 7.3mb