Friday, October 26: After lunch at the Mountain View Hotel, we head out again with Masala to the southeastern group of Lalibela churches. On the way, Masala points out The River Jordan and Mount Tabor, named after Jerusalem’s holy sites. Heading to Bet Gabriel-Rufael, we climb a path alongside of which is a sliver of hewn rock known as “The Way to Heaven.”
We enter Bet Gabriel-Rufael from the top of the church, walking over a rock-carved bridge that crosses a deep trench. Scholars think this church may have been a fortified palace for Aksumite royalty in the 7th and 8th centuries. The monumental facade is the most interesting thing about this church.
We make our way through a pitch-black tunnel, which Masala likens to the experience to descending into hell. We emerge into light (likened to heaven) into Bet Merkorios, which some say may have once been the town’s prison. This is because of ankle shackles found within the church. Inside is a fresco representing the three wise men, possibly created in the 15th century.
The freestanding Bet Amanuel is a finely-carved church and may have been the royal family’s private chapel. Its building style is like Aksumite buildings; its projecting and recessed walls of stone mimic layers of wood and stone found in Aksumite buildings.
Finally, we visit Bet Abba Libanos, which is a hypogeous church. This means it is under the earth’s surface. In fact, the church is attached to rock at the top and bottom. Legend says it was built overnight by Lalibela’s wife with the help of a few angels. It seems to grow sandwiched between slabs of rock.
Here is a gallery of the southeastern churches. Click on any of the images for a full-sized slide show.