My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Eighth wonder of the world - Lalibela Rock Hewn churches

 Eighth wonder of the world - UNESCO world heritage site since 1978 - created as the New Jerusalem by King Lalibela more than 800 years ago 
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
at Golgotha 

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 Africa.
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 Lalibela, 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
the cross
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... 

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