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Churches of Lalibela

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Ethiopia.

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During the 11th to 13th centuries the Ethiopian state manifested as the Christian Zagwe dynasty and the most notable of its rulers was King Lalibela in the 12th century. Legends tell that Lalibela had a three-day visionary experience during which he received divine communications instructing him to build several churches. Assisted by angels and St. Gabriel, the King built twelve extraordinary churches over a period of twenty-five years. The churches of Lalibela are among the most unusual architectural creations of human civilization. Each church is sculpted, both inside and out, directly from the bedrock of the earth. No building materials of any kind are brought in. Narrow tunnels connect several of the churches, and the walls of the trenches and courtyards contain cavities and chambers filled with mummies of monks and pilgrims. The churches, many filled with richly painted biblical murals, are still used for worship today. The most remarkable of the Lalibela churches, called Bet Giorgis, is dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of Ethiopia. Set in a deep pit with perpendicular walls, it can only be entered via a hidden tunnel carved in the stone. The church of Bet Giorgis is a nearly perfect cube, hewn in the shape of a cross, with a roof decoration of equilateral Greek crosses inside each other.

Photo: Rock-hewn Church of Bet Giorgis, Lalibela

More on the Churches of Lalibela from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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