legends of lalibela & bet medhane alem {northern group of churches}

Friday, October 26:  As soon as we deposit our bags at the hotel, we visit the northern group of churches, which include the following: Bet Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross and said to be the largest monolithic church in the world, is possibly a copy of St. Mary of Zion church in Aksum. It is linked to Bet Maryam (possibly the oldest of the churches), Bet Golgotha (known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela), Bet Mikael, the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of AdamBet Meskel and Bet Danaghel, a semi-chapel and chapel.

————————————

Bet Medhane Alem (Savior of the World), said to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world, measures 33.5m by 23.5m and is over 11.5m high (approximately 110 by 77 feet and over 37 feet high).   Thirty-four large rectangular columns surround the church, and the three joined at each corner supposedly represent the Holy Trinity.  Inside, 38 columns support the gabled roof, according to Lonely Planet Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Our guide shows us three empty graves in one corner, prepared for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Cross-shaped panels pierce the walls.  This church holds the legendary 7kg gold Lalibela cross, but we aren’t afforded a glimpse of it today.

Bet Medhane Alem (Savior of the World) with its unsightly UNESCO roof & scaffolding

Legends and history of Lalibela:

According to one legend, King Lalibela was poisoned by his half-brother.  While in a three-day coma, the king was transported to heaven, where he was instructed to return to Ethiopia and build a New Jerusalem there.  Another legend says that he went into exile to Jerusalem and vowed that when he returned he would create a New Jerusalem. Others attribute the building of the churches to Templars from Europe.  Some of the holy places within the Lalibela church complex mimic the names found in Jerusalem: the River Jordan, Cavalry, and the Tomb of Adam, for instance.  The king set out to build this new Jerusalem after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land.  Lalibela flourished after the decline of the Aksum Empire.Some scholars believe that the styles, as well as the state of preservation, of the different churches vary so much, that it’s unlikely they were all built during Lalibela’s reign.

An exterior wall of Bet Medhane Alem

Some scholars estimate it would have taken a 40,000 man workforce to build the churches; local legends claim that human workers labored the daylight hours away, with celestial beings taking over for night duty, doing double the amount of labor of their human counterparts, enabling the churches to be built at astounding speed.

Bet Medhane Alem, thought to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world

Lalibela is an important place of Ethiopian Christianity, still today a place of pilgrimage and devotion.  The churches today are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  UNESCO has built rather unsightly scaffolding and roofing over many of the churches to protect their interior frescoes from water seepage, a necessary evil.

side view of Bet Medhane Alem

According to UNESCO, the churches were not constructed in a traditional way but rather were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. These blocks were further chiseled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs etc. This gigantic work was further completed with an extensive system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs.

a little shrine just inside the door of Bet Medhane Alem

Four of the churches were finished as completely free-standing structures, attached to their mother rock only at their bases. The remaining churches range from semi-detached to ones whose facades are the only features that have been ‘liberated’ from the rock.

one of the four aisles off the barrel-vaulted nave inside Bet Medhane Alem

Our guide for today is Masala, a young Ethiopian man who grew up in the village. He is kind and conveys so many little bits of knowledge to us, that I’m really happy we have him along.

drums used for the chanting services that are still held in the church to this day

inside Bet Medhane Alem

Today, every time we enter a church, we must leave our shoes outside.  We have a shoe minder today who follows us to each of the churches, where he sits outside and “minds” our shoes.  He glows with love and each time, as I struggle with untying and tying my  tennis shoes, he helps me put them back on my feet.

we leave our shoes outside of each church

our smiling and helpful shoe minder

Advertisements
Categories: Africa, Bet Medhane Alem, Ethiopia, Lalibela, Lalibela rock-hewn churches | 5 Comments

Post navigation

5 thoughts on “legends of lalibela & bet medhane alem {northern group of churches}

  1. Amazing! More of those “how on earth could they do that?!” creations. I love the shoe minder – the concept and his very pleasant face. Can you imagine – “and what do you do each day?” – “oh, I mind shoes.”

    • Yes, Carol, I love the idea of the “shoe minder” too! Yes, those churches are really amazing when you realize not only did they chisel them out of solid rock, but then they had to chisel out the insides too. What on earth gives people these visions?

  2. Pingback: Lalibela, Ethiopia « a nomad in the land of nizwa

  3. absolutely people will love this, Thank you for sharing my holly country LALIBELA’s history and picture to your friends Mrs Carol.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Megadiverse Piedmont

Farming an acre in the Upper Wolf Island Creek subwatershed in the Roanoke River basin.

Ravi'S Blog

Java Fever

John SterVens' Tales

Thee Life, Thee Heart, Thee Tears

Set SerenDestiny in Motion

"Lead the Life You're Meant to Live"

Romancing Reality

Linda Grashoff's Photography Adventures

Jill's Scene

A small town take on the big, wide world

eatprayjade

eating and traveling in pursuit of la dolce vita

Japan Wonders

Exploring Japan's popular tourist spots and off-the-beaten path

A lot from Lydia

You can learn a lot from Lydia...(It's a song, not a promise.)

Ink Arts by Carol

My site for offering my alcohol ink arts

I see Beauty everyday

Blessed be the ones that see beauty where others see nothing

BOOKING IT

Debra's Excellent Adventures in Reading and Travel

Marsha Ingrao

Traveling & Blogging Near and Far

PIRAN CAFÉ

Notebooks from a trampfest. Travel tips, tales and images, online since 2006.

Word Wabbit

Wrestless Word Wrestler

Cardinal Guzman

Encyclopedia Miscellaneous - 'quality' blogging since August 2011

Pit's Fritztown News

A German Expat's Life in Fredericksburg/Texas

Under a Cornish Sky

inspired by the colours of the land, sea and sky of Cornwall

sloveniangirlabroad.wordpress.com/

A blog about expat life and travel adventures written by an Slovenian girl living in Switzerland

Let Me Bite That

Can I have a bite?

Running Stories by Jerry Lewis

Personal blog about running adventures

Finding NYC

exploring New York City one adventure at a time

The World according to Dina

Notes on Seeing, Reading & Writing, Living & Loving in The North

snippetsandsnaps

Potato Point and beyond

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Eye of a Thieving Magpie

My view of this wonderful and crazy life - as I travel and explore.

renateflynn.wordpress.com/

A (Mostly) Solo Female Exploring the World

NYLON DAZE

From London to New York, living in an expat daze

Blue Hour Photo Workshops

Photography is a constant travel to new places

Travel Much?

Never cease to explore and tell!

Insanity at its best!

Yousuf Bawany's Blog

Badfish & Chips Cafe

Travel photos, memoirs & letters home...from anywhere in the world

Travels in the Middle East and beyond

"Wherever you go, go with all your heart " Confucius.

Natalie Breuer

Natalie. Writer. Photographer. Etc.

A Thousand Diversions

Travel, food & random things

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

Lost in Translation

Looking for meanings in words, images and sounds

simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple and active travel – every day of the year. They started their trip in 2012 and are still slowly traveling the world.

60 mm

a world in miniature

%d bloggers like this: