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Published: November 15th 2007
We were taken in hand by another charming young Ethiopian whose English vocabulary was excellent but was not matched by his pronunciation. However, most of us got used to it and those of “harder hearing” struggled.
He took us all round the unique churches carved out of solid rock, some going back many centuries. There are 11 in all, 7 of which we toured in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. We marveled at their construction as they were all chiseled out of the rock, from the top down, and the detail of the pillars with the arches between them holding up the virgin rock roofs was fascinating. By and large the interiors were not very spacious and it was difficult to imagine a full congregation for any service and we felt that in no way could the town’s population be crammed into one, let alone the eleven. They were all different too, and at the end of the morning we were all rather dazed by what we had been shown.
The highlight was the Church of St George, which was the last one King Lalibela carved out in honour of the Saint, and this is the one
most widely publicized and shown around the world. It was quite remarkable, built in the form of St George’s cross - so familiar to those who support England. The interior was tiny but the whole was captivating. St George features prominently throughout Ethiopia, seemingly part mythical and part religious. However, all sorts of crosses were carved into the churches, even that of St Andrew as well as the swastika. When we can attach some photos to our travel log we can hopefully share with you what we saw. It is interesting to note that UNESCO has taken these churches in hand and is spending a small fortune on building great structures to hold great canopies above the most vulnerable parts of the sites to protect them from both sun and rain.
The amount of scaffolding currently on the sites certainly distracts the viewers eye and, importantly, makes it extremely difficult to capture the outside of the buildings on camera. This community here is entirely Christian and Muslims are not allowed to build a mosque, not that there are many Muslims anyway. For Ethiopia, Lalibela is the second Jerusalem. It is nice to be able to add that we have
suffered far less from hassle here than anywhere else in this country. We believe that there is a strong element of education of the youngsters that the continual bothering of visitors is counter productive. Let us hope that this spreads to other parts of Ethiopia too.
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