|House of the Saviour of the World|
Bet Medhane Alem
Reputedly the world's largest rock hewn church
|pilgrims coming away from Bet Medhane Adem|
|impressive outside of Bet Medhane Alem|
|inside Bet Medhane Alem|
|Church of St Mary windows symbolizing the three crosses |
|Inside Church of St Mary|
|Church of St Mary veiled pillar inscribed |
with Ten Commandments and description of how
churches built - access denied!
|Ethiopian embroidering his white robe|
the eleven rock hewn churches of Lalibela are thought by many to be the most impressive historical sites anywhere in sub-Saharan
Imagine a solid volcanic mountain, and then imagine boring down into that rock to carve out a free standing subterranean block,
then imagine this block being further bored out from the inside to create a church, with pillars, arches, carvings - so that it is left standing with its roof at ground level, surrounded on all sides by a deep trench. Furthermore, this church is connected to the other churches cut into the same rock by a series of further trenches and underground tunnels.
These are the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.
|priest with processional cross|
This is a Holy site, spread over about 15 hectares to the south of the small town of
the churches split into three groups. From their original construction, the
churches in this group (some have arguably been royal palaces or prisons) have
been at the centre of Lalibela's spiritual Christian life, where something like
10% of the population are priests.
And now the tourists have arrived, conspiring, along with the weather, to destroy these wonderful sites.
|navigating the ledges between House of the|
Cross and Mikael-Golgotha
Tourists must be a mixed blessing
they do after all bring cash into the region. But the weather is a different matter, and in an attempt to protect the churches from further erosion, most are covered by fairly hideous canopies, practical indeed, but doing nothing for the appearance of the places they seek to protect.
|Cruciform pillars in Bet Mikael|
note "angel eye" carvings either side of
Prepare for some tough walking between the churches, with some steep and rough steps and one dark tunnel (there is an alternative route if you must) - so wear good strong shoes with adequate grip, and prepare to leave these at the door to each church as you enter. When you come out of a different exit, there you will find your shoes again, beautifully lined up by the "shoe keepers", and ready to put on until the next church.
|Tomb of Adam at exit of Mikael/Golgotha|
|the distinctive traditional two storey circular |
stone houses of the area around the
There is a very biblical atmosphere to the place. King Lalibela is also now regarded as one of
Ethiopia's most important saints.
The day we visited was his feast day and we were rewarded by the sight of many
priests and others making their pilgrimage to the churches for a blessing. Many
people will walk miles, sometimes for days, sometimes across the mountains, and
barefoot, to come to churches for important feast days. We experience this for
ourselves in an amazing way in a couple of days time...
To all my readers have a very joyous and peaceful Christmas and read more about this incredible trip as my story continues over the next few weeks into the New Year...