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

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Lalibela rock hewn churches - the Southern cluster

view from Ben Abeba restaurant 
 We are on our way back from Yemrehane Christos monastery, 2700 metres up in beautiful isolation north east of Lalibela. We came by coach and climbed the 195 steps up through lovely Juniper forest to the monastery.
It is apparently possible to visit by mule from Lalibela, a 10-12 hour round trip if you feel inclined, or would be unable to manage the steps.
traditional coffee making at Ben Abeba
This afternoon we will be visiting the five churches in the second, South Eastern cluster, of Lalibela rock hewn churches. But first we have lunch at the extraordinary Ben Abeba restaurant high up atop a hill on the outskirts of Lalibela - a wonderful experience - excellent food, veggie friendly and hosted by the Scottish lady who set this up a few years ago with an Ethiopian business partner. It looks like a witch's hat as we approach, with a multi layered decking construction, surrounded by very pretty gardens with lots of different sitting out areas, and amazing views all around.   
The restaurant put on a fabulous buffet spread for our group at lunchtime.
I usually confine my restaurant reviews to Trip Adviser but this one is so special I think it deserves a mention here.
And so on to the churches.

Bet Giyorgis
Bet Giyorgis in its trench
with the priest inside Bet Giyorgis
We start with the totally iconic monolithic Bet Giyorgis - the church seen on all the publicity and tourist brochures for the area. It is for this reason, I guess, that it has escaped being covered by one of the rather hideous protective roof shelters which so obscure the views and photo opportunities of the other churches - but which are necessary to protect these extraordinary buildings from further decay. 
This church has been excavated out of the rock to a depth of 15 metres or so, in the shape of a cross, sitting in its own sunken courtyard with vertical walls. Dramatic from the outside, less so inside, but it has a great atmosphere if you are able to experience it between tour groups.

inside Bet Mercurios
From here we make our way to Bet Gebriel-Rafael, more like a fortress than a church, which we approach over a wooden walkway. Indeed, with Bet Mercurios, which we visit next, this may well have been first a fortified palace, perhaps carved originally as the palace for King Lalibela.

Bet Emanuel
The brave among us stoop to go through a pitch black tunnel from Bet Gebriel-Rafael to Bet Mercurios but there is an alternative route! However I would recommend braving the tunnel to gain the full atmosphere of the visit - the guides are well equipped with torches!Bet Mercurios has some wonderful fifteenth century wall paintings, as well as some iron shackles which indicate its possible early role as a prison. Saint Mercurios was a third century Coptic saint, tortured and beheaded for his Christian faith.

some of those steep and rocky steps
Some very steep steps take us down to the Bet Emanuel, the most elegant church of them all in Lalibela. Its appearance reminds us of the Yemrehane Christos monastery style of layered wood and stone.

Bet Abba Libanos
Finally we make our way to Bet Abba Libanos, built, legend tells us, by King Lalibela's wife in one night, with the assistance of angels. Sadly we are approaching closing time and our visit is rushed. The priest wants to go home and soon we are also making our way back to our hotel, for a prayer meeting and supper at the Lalibela Cultural Centre.

our shoes are well looked after and
ready for us with willing hand as well
pilgrims walk for miles, from all directions, to Na'akuto
La'ab for the feast day service
The next day is a special feast day at Na'akuto La'ab and we will see this at first hand - this will be an extraordinary experience and one certainly not to be missed - we will then go on to explore the mountain top church of Asheton Mariam at 3200 metres - even higher than we have been today - and join in the liturgy there. That also is a moving and spiritual experience for some of us.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing photos! What incredible experiences you have had!!