Ethiopian Pilgrimage: The Rock Churches of Lalibela

Ethiopia is in northeast Africa. A high plateau was formed by molten volcanic rock. Isolated within the cliffs is a unique Christian holy site, Lalibela. This crossed-shaped church is the House of St. George. The surrounding rock was cut away to leave a 12 meter by 12 meter cross. It is formed out of a single rock without a single seam. The interior was also hollowed out from rock. Lalibela has eleven stone churches, which are connected by tunnels. They were built by a ruler named King Lalibela in the 12th century. The Christian monarch had a dream. God spoke to him: Build churches of rock this will be a New Jerusalem. For this new Jerusalem, he reconstructed biblical settings. The stable where Christ was born; the River of Jordan. A cross symbolizes Christs baptism. And the small hill overlooking the holy site was selected to resemble the Mount of Olives.

Ethiopian Christianity dates back to the 4th century. Even today, it remains close to its Jewish roots. Christmas, in the Ethiopian Calendar, is on the 7th of January. As the festival nears, Lalibelas population swells with 60 thousand pilgrims. Among them are monks who give open-air sermons. (Was any other city built by God? In all the world, only Lalibela was. You should be proud of Lalibela.)

The sacred soil of Lalibela is said to cure disease. Pilgrims take it home for those who couldnt come. As the festival continues into the night, the climax approaches. At midnight on the 7th of January, they greet the day of Christs birth amid a living recreation of biblical settings and stories. Here at Lalibela, faith is built on rock.

Lalibela - photo by Roberto Vallejo / Flickr

Lalibela - photo by Wojtek Ogrodowczyk / Flickr

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