Ethiopia to Cape Town 2013

8 months - with Gitane - Toyota Hiace 4x4 van

Churches of Lalibela

October 31, 2013  —  Ethiopia

Huge constructions

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Amanuel.

Lalibela is a small town at an altitude of 2630 metres where twelve monumental churches have been hewn in volcanic rock. Classed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, this town is a very important pilgrimage site in Ethiopia. Even though the dates of construction of the churches are not agreed upon by all, the most accepted range is that the construction of the churches started at the end of the 12th century and probably ended at the beginning of the 14th century.

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Maryam.

Look closely to the photo on the right. Notice the two people dressed in white at the bottom of the compound. Now, remember that at the beginning, there was only a gigantic piece of rock as high as the roof of the church. The compound, staircases, alleys, windows, doors and pools all have been hewn in that rock. Once the outside was completed, the craftsmen made a door and carved the inside of the church.

The enormous amount of work probably took a few decades. The kings who started these works must have had a strong faith to carry out such a work. The resources needed must have been impressive.

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Entrance to Beta Maryam Church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Medhane Alem.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
View of Beta Maryam on the right.
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Beta Maryam (Mary)

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Compound protecting Beta Maryam (on the right).

The church of Beta Maryam is dedicated to Mary and is one of the most venerated in the city. This church has the most beautiful interior among the twelve churches of the town.

Tradition says that this church could have been the preferred one of King Lalibela. The Christ would have appeared on this site, leaving on a pillar, the story of the past and future of the world. However, the world would disappear if the story would be unveiled... Thus, it is forbidden to look at the pillar that is permanently covered with linen.

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Inside the church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Inside the church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Inside the church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Bas-relief with knights.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Praying on the external wall.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
This church is profoundly venerated by the locals.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Priest reading a religious text.
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Beta Medhane Alem

Lalibela - Ethiopia

Beta Medhane Alem is the largest church of the religious cluster, with its dimensions of 33.5 m by 23.5 and a height of 11 m. The inside of the compound is 40 metres long.

Imagine all the work required to dig trenches around the church, then to carve the 34 pillars that support the church. Notice that some pillars are not original. They have been replaced since the original ones collapsed. The church has been built with a small tilt to allow the rain to drain adequately.

Lalibela - Ethiopia
The church is huge.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Staircase going down to the church compound.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
There are 24 pillars inside.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
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Beta Mikael et Beta Golgotha

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Mikael.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Golgotha.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Golgotha.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Golgotha.
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Beta Giyorgis (St-Georges)

Lalibela - Ethiopia

According to the legend, Saint-Georges appeared to King Lalibela and was surprised that none of the churches was dedicated to him. Thus, the king has this church build and it represents the apogee of the architectural art of Lalibela.

The church with its cross-shaped form rise from its base 12 metres below. The roof is carved with a cross and is at the same level as the rock surrounding it.

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Window with very nice patterns.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Cross carved on the roof.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Inside the church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
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Beta Amanuel

Lalibela - Ethiopia

Beta Amanuel is a monolithic church with a facade carved to imitate stories with blind windows.

This church may have been the private chapel of the royal family.

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Inside the church.
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Beta Abba Libanos

Lalibela - Ethiopia

Beta Abba Libanos is the only church with a roof still attached to the surrounding rock.

This church would have been built in 24 hours by the wife of King Lalibela with help of angels. Maybe it is for this reason that the building is fragile and carved in a more friable rock.

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Left side of the church.
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Beta Gabriel-Rafael

Lalibela - Ethiopia

This structure, looking more like a fortress, was probably converted to a church after a different use. A bridge built more recently spans the chasm that is several metres deep.

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Beta Mercurios

Lalibela - Ethiopia

This church partly collapsed was restored quite recently. At the beginning, it was not a church, but its usage is still unknown.

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Frescoes inside the church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Priest showing this church's cross.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Old painting.
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Other chapels, churches and structures

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Meskal.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Priest at Beta Uraiel Church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Tunnel to Beta Mercurios.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Tunnel to Beta Maryam.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Tomb of Adam.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Staircase to Beta Amanual.
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Ceremonies

Lalibela - Ethiopia

We stayed a few days in Lalibela, and we were lucky enough to see a few different ceremonies.

Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Maryam Church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Patriarchs at Beta Maryam Church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Prayers book.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Singing at Beta Uraiel Church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Maryam Church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Beta Maryam Church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Singing and processions at Beta Maryam Church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Maybe the ceremony is getting boring... It lasted several hours.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Believers gathered at Saint-Georges Church.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Group praying.
Lalibela - Ethiopia
Prayers book.