the wonder of lalibela: bet giyorgis

Friday, October 26:  As we walk down the gravelly and dusty hill from the tukul village to Bet Giyorgis, the gravel slips out from under my feet and I crash to the ground, my right knee collapsing under me like a jackknife.  I can’t even stop the barrage of unladylike words that spring out of my mouth.  Three years ago, I had a partial knee replacement in my right knee, and it seems whenever I fall, that’s the knee that snaps.  When I fall today, it hurts like hell!  I think for sure I have seriously damaged it.

Bet Giyorgis from the hilltop above

Masala and Ed lend me their hands and pull me up.  After dusting myself off and shaking it out, I find my limbs appear to be intact.  I’m in pain, but I think I’m okay. Thank goodness for that.  Ethiopia, and especially Lalibela, is not a place where I would want to have a medical emergency!

Bet Giyorgis, from the top of the trench

We continue down the hill to Bet Giyorgis, the most spectacular of all the Lalibela churches.  For one, it is perfectly formed in the shape of a Greek cross.  It is 15 meters (49 feet) high, carved out of a deep trench, and is the best preserved of the churches.  Because it is well-preserved, it lacks the obtrusive and unsightly UNESCO roof and scaffolding that most of the other churches have.

Bet Giyorgis

Carved from solid red volcanic rock in the 12th century, it is the most well-known and last built of the eleven churches in the Lalibela area. Legend has it that Ethiopia’s patron saint, Saint George, unexpectedly came to visit King Lalibela on a white horse, just as the King was finishing off his churches. St. George was a little peeved as none of the churches was dedicated to him.  King Lalibela immediately sought to make amends by building St. George the most beautiful church of all, Bet Giyorgis, which means Church of Saint George.

Yep, I’m really here at Bet Giyorgis! 🙂

meditative moment at Bet Giyorgis

The dimensions of the trench within which the church sits are 25 meters by 25 meters by 30 meters (82’x82’x98′).  Outside the church is a small baptismal pool, overgrown with grasses which are used in Palm Sunday services.

a baptismal pool at Bet Giyorgis

Inside are more colorful paintings, a priest, and two 800-year-old olive-wood boxes: one is rumored to have been carved by King Lalibela himself and is said to contain a crucifix, made with gold brought from King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.

colorful painting of St. George in Bet Giyorgis

Masala tells me I can ask the priest to wave his cross over me for healing, following my fall as I came down the hill.  I ask him to do so, and he waves the cross all around my knees, and then all over my body for healing.  Ed has him wave the cross over him too, for general back pain.  We tip him several Ethiopian birr.

a view of Bet Giyorgis from within the trench

one of the nuns of the Lalibela churches

As we leave the church, we see the hoofprints left by St. George’s horse, permanently gouged into the stone on the sides of the trench.

the hoofprints of St. George’s horse in the wall of the trench at Bet Giyorgis

After we visit Bet Giyorgis, we head back to our hotel for lunch.  Later this afternoon, we will head to the southeastern group of churches.

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Categories: Africa, Bet Giyorgis, Ethiopia, Lalibela | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “the wonder of lalibela: bet giyorgis

  1. I never cease to be amazed at these creations! What a treat to be able to visit them in person. I hope your knee is nice to you.

    • Yes, Carol, it was such a treat to see them in person. I am always amazed at the things man comes up with to create, to leave his mark on the world! My knee felt better by the next day, believe it or not! Lucky for me. 🙂

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

  3. I saw a picture of this place a while back and have been curious about it ever since. It looks amazing!

    • Yes, all these churches were really amazing. They were cut from solid rock!! I can’t believe King Lalibela had the vision to do this. 🙂

  4. Wonderful pics again, Cathy. I love the story about St. George, and the painting of him slaying the dragon is too cute. 😀

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