Facts About Lalibela Churches

lalibela chruches, Facts About Lalibela Churches-

Facts About Lalibela Churches…Lalibela is found in Northcentral Ethiopia. Historically known as Roha, capital of the Zague dynasty for about 300 years, was renamed for its most distinguished monarch, Lalibela (late 12th–early 13th century), who according to tradition built the 11 monolithic churches for which the place is famous.

The churches, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, were hewn out of solid rock (entirely below ground level) in a variety of styles. Generally, trenches were excavated in a rectangle, isolating a solid granite block. The block was then carved both externally and internally, the work proceeding from the top downward.

Here are Facts About Lalibela Churches.

Legends are True?

According to an Ethiopian legend, God instructed Lalibela to build the unique Lalibela churches; the structures were built with the help of angels. King Lalibela, who was poisoned by his brother and fell into a three-day coma, was taken to Heaven and given a vision of a rock hewn city. After Lalibela woke up from the comma and was crowned as a king, he gathered local handymen and started building the churches, the likes of which the world had never seen before.

Another legend has it that that the king went into exile to Jerusalem and vowed that when he returned he would create a New Jerusalem. At that time, Muslims conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land making them often dangerous and even deadly.

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 dou- ble the amount of labor of their human counterparts, enabling the churches to be built at incredible speed.

Facts About Lalibela Churches: Legends are True?

Excavated not constructed

a wide trench on all four sides of the rock, then painstakingly chiseling out the interior. The largest church is 40 feet high, and the labor required to complete such a task with only hammers and chisels is astounding.

One of the churches, Bet Maryam, contains a stone pillar on which King Lalibela wrote the secrets of the buildings’ construction. It is covered with old cloths and only the priests may look at it.

Facts About Lalibela Churches: Excavated not constructed

Structural Beauty

The churches have been in continuous use since they were built in the 12th century. The roofs of the Lalibela churches are level with the ground and are reached by stairs descending into narrow trenches. The churches are connected by tunnels and walkways and stretch across sheer drops. The interior pillars of the churches have been worn smooth by the hands of supplicating worshippers.

The rock-cut churches are simply but beautifully carved with such features as fragile-looking windows, moldings of various shapes and sizes, different forms of crosses, swastikas (an Eastern religious motif) and even Islamic traceries. Several churches also have wall paintings.

Facts About Lalibela Churches : Beauty

Home to the Biggest Timket Festival

The Lalibela churches host one of the largest Timket festivals in the country, and pilgrims from all around the province come to the town for it. During the festival, pilgrims participate in three days of singing, dancing and festivities around the church of Saint George.

The churches attract thousands of pilgrims during the major holy day celebrations and are tended by Coptic priests.

Facts About Lalibela Churches: Home to the Biggest Timket Festival

1520 First Contact

The first Europeans saw these extraordinary holy sites were Portuguese explorers Pero da Coviha and Priest Francisco Alvares in the 1520s, one of whom noted in his journal that the sights were so fantastic, he expected readers of his descriptions would accuse him of lying.

The priest wrote, “I weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not believe if I write more.” While another Portuguese visitor came a few years after Covilha and Alvares, no other Europeans came for another 300 years!

Facts About Lalibela Churches: 1520 First Contact

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Facts About Lalibela -
Facts About Lalibela churches-

One of Many

The rock-hewn churches in Lalibela are certainly an ancient Beauty, but they aren’t the only ones in the country. The Tigray region, located in northern Ethiopia is home to far more churches, around 150 more. The churches are spread out all the way between Axum and Mekelle. Some serious hiking and climbing is needed to get to them.

Facts About Lalibela Churches: The rock-hewn churches are not the only ones in Ethiopia

Home to the largest monolithic church

One of the Lalibela churches (Bet Medhane Alem) is thought to be the largest monolithic church in the world. This puts it ahead of similar churches that were carved out of rock in Bulgaria, France, Finland and Cappadocia, Turkey.

Facts About Lalibela Churches: Home to the largest monolithic church

Continuous Use

The churches have been in continuous use since they were built in the 12th century. The church arrangement. Restoration work in the 20th century indicated that some of the churches may have been used originally as forti- fications and royal residences.

Facts About Lalibela Churches: Continuous Use

The Churches Arrangement

The churches are arranged in two main groups, connected by subterranean passageways. One group, surround- ed by trench 36 feet (11 meters) deep, includes House of Emmanuel, House of Mercurios, Abba Libanos, and House of Gabriel, all carved from a single rock hill.

House of Medhane Alem (“Savior of the World”) is the largest church, 109 feet (33 meters) long, 77 feet (23 meters) wide, and 35 feet (10 meters) deep. House of Gior- gis, cruciform in shape, is carved from a sloping rock terrace. House of Golgotha contains Lalibela’s tomb, and House of Mariam is noted for its frescoes. The interiors were hollowed out into naves and given vaulted ceilings.

Facts About Lalibela Churches: The Churches Arrangement

Secret Tunnels

The expert craftsmanship of the Lalibela churches has been linked with the earlier church of Debre Damo near Aksum and tends to support the assumption of a well-developed Ethiopian tradition of architecture.

Facts About Lalibela Churches: Secret Tunnels

Geography of Lalibela

Lalibela is located in the North Wollo Zone in Amhara Region, at roughly 2,500 meters (8,200 ft) above sea level. Historical name Roha, religious and pilgrimage center, north-central Ethiopia. The whole of Lalibela is a large antiquity of the medieval and post-medieval civilization of Ethiopia. Famous for its rock-cut monolithic churches.

Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, second only to Axum, and a center of pilgrimage. Roha, capital of the Zague dynasty for about 300 years, was renamed for its most distinguished monarch, Lalibela (late 12th–early 13th century), who according to tradition built the 11 monolithic churches for which the place is famous.

Facts About Lalibela: The Geography

The Town

Before the Town was named as such, the area that remains to be a stalwart hub of early Christianity was once known as Roha. Prior to the early middle ages, this place was just one of the many inconsequential hamlets in the ancient Nubian civilization. Now, the city of Lalibela is the second holiest city in the Ethiopian Christian sect after Axum.

Facts About Lalibela: The Town

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The Churches

To think of Lalibela without its iconic monolithic churches is unimaginable. Lalibela is known around the world for its churches carved from within the earth from “living rock,” which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture. Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries. UNESCO identifies 11 churches, assembled in four groups. In fact, it’s because of these churches that a vibrant religious community thrives up to this day.

Facts About Lalibela churches: The Churches

UNESCO Lalibela

The churches in Lalibela are already centuries old, but they were only inscribed in the list of UNESCO World

Heritage Sites during the year 1978. The 11 churches qualified under the three basic criteria:

  • Exceptional artistry
  • Regional and Cultural connection with other places like Jerusalem
  • A testimony to the host territory’s civilization

This important pilgrim site of early Christianity left an indelible mark in Ethiopia’s history and legends.

Facts About Lalibela churches: The UNESCO

Lalibela The King

Lalibela (reigned ca. 1181-ca. 1221) was an Ethiopian king and saint to whom are attributed the famous mono- lithic churches of northern Ethiopia. Lalibela seems to have been born in the town of Roha in northern Ethiopia, which was then the capital of the Zagwe dynasty. This town was later renamed Lalibela in his honor.

In the late 14th or early 15th century a monk named Abba Amba wrote a biography of Lalibela. According to Amba, Lalibela was an extremely devout Christian in his youth even to the point of being an ascetic and recluse. It was with reluctance that Lalibela married and then accepted the crown of Ethiopia, which had previously been held by his brother.

Prior to his ascension to the throne, his baptismal name was derived from the phrase ‘the bees recognize his sovereignty.’ King Lalibela is best known for commissioning the creation of the magnificent monolithic churches.

Facts About Lalibela churches: Lalibela The King

The Legend

Until these day, there is no definitive explanation as to how the churches were built. But, legend has it that the then King Lalibela got the inspiration when he saw Jerusalem in his lucid dreams. It is even believed that the construction of the magnificent churches in Lalibela was only possible with the aid of ‘Angels’.

Facts About Lalibela churches: The Legend

Tourism Dependent

Lalibela depends on tourism. There are about 1000 priests and deacons at Lalibela who are supported by revenue generated by the churches. Similarly, many of the town’s 20000 population depends on the tourists that come to see the churches and stay and eat in the town’s many hotels and restaurants.

Facts About Lalibela churches: Tourism Dependent

Little is known how the Churches were built

For the past decade, the Lalibela mission, an international team of specialists, has come to visit the site to better understand its mysterious past, but little was answered. The team investigates a large trench running through the church complex that represents the Jordan river, the ancient cross denoting its religious significance. Nothing is known about how they were built.

Facts About Lalibela churches:  4 Little is known how the Churches were built



A common sight around the churches are worshippers. Regardless of age, dropping to the ground in prayer and touching what they believe holy ground with their head three times in honor of the Holy Trinity. The churches are Christian sanctuary’s, who’s meaning to Ethiopian Orthodox is of profound importance.

Facts About Lalibela churches: Worshippers

Ethiopia’s Jerusalem

The layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted, especially by local clergy, to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem. This has led some experts to date the current church forms to the years following the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 by the Muslim leader Saladin.

King Lalibela, revered as a saint, is said to have seen Jerusalem, and then attempted to build a new Jerusalem as his capital in response to the capture of old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187. Each church was carved from a single piece of rock to symbolize spirituality and humility. Christian faith inspires many features with Biblical

names, even Lalibela’s river is known as the River Jordan. Lalibela remained the capital of Ethiopia from the late 12th into the 13th century.

Facts About Lalibela churches: Ethiopia’s Jerusalem

Ethiopia’s Holiest city

Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, second only to Axum, and a center of pilgrimage. Unlike Axum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.

Ethiopia was one of the earliest na- tions to adopt Christianity in the first half of the fourth century, and its historical roots date to the time of the Apostles. The churches themselves date from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries.

Facts About Lalibela churches : Ethiopia’s Holiest city

Conclusion on Facts about Lalibela Churches

Only a few facts about Lalibela churches have been known until now. The continuous use of the church buildings and the tourism centric plans seem to deter further studies.

However, the known legends and facts about Lalibela churches show the beauty of the town and the places. Lalibela is definitely a place to discover.

If you have a plan to visit Ethiopia, Lalibela is the best place to consider.

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