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Introduction

Lalibella is a city situated in northern Ethiopia, famous for its monolithic churches. It's also a centre of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.  Lalibella is considered as "The Jerusalem of Africa". Ethiopia is one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity in the first half of the fourth century, and its historical roots date to the time of the Apostles.

During the reign of Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela (a member of the Zagwe Dynasty, who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century), the current town of Lalibela was known as Roha. The saintly king was named so, because a swarm of bees is said to have surrounded him at his birth, which his mother took as a sign of his future reign as Emperor of Ethiopia. The names of several places in the modern town and the general layout of the rock-cut churches themselves are said to mimic names and patterns observed by Lalibela during the time he spent as a youth in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

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.

Attractions

The Northern Group:

  • Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, probably a copy of St Mary of Zion in Aksum.
  • Biete Maryam (House of Miriam/House of Mary), possibly the oldest of the churches, and a replica of the Tombs of Adam and Christ.
  • Biete Golgotha Mikael (House of Golgotha Mikael), known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela)
  • Biete Meskel (House of the Cross)
  • Biete Denagel (House of Virgins)


The Western Group:

  • Biete Giyorgis (Church of Saint George), thought to be the most finely executed and best preserved church


The Eastern Group:

  • Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), possibly the former royal chapel
  • Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St. Mercoreos/House of St. Mark), which may be a former prison
  • Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos)
  • Biete Gabriel-Rufael (House of the angels Gabriel, and Raphael) possibly a former royal palace, linked to a holy bakery.
  • Biete Lehem (Bethlehem Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶם, House of Holy Bread).

Farther afield, lie the monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church, (possibly eleventh century, built in the Aksumite fashion, but within a cave).

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