Ethiopia-Rock-Hewn churches of Lalibela

  • Topic: 1000 to 2000 BP
  • Country: Ethiopia
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

The region of Lalibela in Ethiopia is evidence of the height of Christianity in Ethiopia during the 5th and 7th century AD. Lalibela has 11 medieval monolithic cave churches that are found all over the north and central parts of Ethiopia, the oldest of these churches dates to the 6th-7th centuries in Tigray. Churches were erected under king Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty (11th-12th century A.D.), the majesty of the churches are often referred to as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, the ‘New Jerusalem’ and the ‘New Golgotha’. King Lalibela (1181-1221) is believed to have built these churches solely for the purpose of establishing a holly and sacred place which ultimately influenced the Ethiopian religion. The Lalibela churches or the rock-hewn churches are arguably amongst, if not the most, significant religious cultural and archaeological sites of Ethiopia. The churches lie on a large mountainous terrain and are divided into two groups by the Jordan River.

To the north of the Jordan but much farther to the west there is also one majestic isolated church of Bete Giyorgis and it is believed to be the most elegant of the rock-hewn churches. The Bete Giyorgis church is shaped in the form of a Greek cross and has walls reminiscent of the Axumite architecture. Archaeologists believe that the rock-hewn churches of the Lalibela region have two distinct architectural styles or influences, the first of which are the Axumite architecture with its wood and stone palaces and monolithic stele and secondly the early Christian Basilica. Churches in each of the two groups are interconnected and these seem to be a valid claim at least for churches belonging to the same group. The Lalibela region is still a significant marker of Christianity in Ethiopia and a place of active pilgrimage and devotion today. Four of the eleven churches were built as free standing-structures and merely attached to the bed rock at the bottom and the remaining churches are semi-detached and facades are the only features free from the rock. The Bete Marylam (House of Mary) and the Bete Amannuel (House of Amannuel) are the largest of the churches in each group.

RanIeri, G., Haile, T. And Alemayehu, T. 2005. TEM-Fast Small-Loop Soundings to map underground Tunnels and Galleries Connecting the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia. An International Journal, vol. 20. No. 5, pp 433-448.

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