Lalibela rock churchesAmong the many reasons travelers come to Ethiopia, one is for its ancient churches rich in history, culture and spectacular building works.

It is evident that Ethiopia hosts some of the greatest historical sites the world has especially churches and sites influenced by Christianity.

The most interesting thing about them is that they are still  active centers of worship and pilgrimages. A single place can rarely be found that was once a church and still is not.

Most are busy welcoming pilgrims from the very corners of the country. In fact the older the church, the holier and popular it is among the followers of the religion.

When Christianity was gaining wide acceptance in the 4th century, Rome was not the first great civilization to adopt the new religion. It had already been anticipated in the Ethiopian highlands which still today have a flourishing Christian tradition.

Ethiopia is believed to be the first country in the west after Armenia to receive Christianity. If you refer the bible, its name is mentioned as of from the second chapter of Book of Genesis. Gen 2:13 reads “And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.” It is a country that is mentioned in the bible more than 60 times.

Many of Ethiopian tourism destinations especially the historical circuit are dominated by churches that are still serving as spiritual centers, places of prayer, worship, pilgrimage centers and monasteries.

Even if the seven wonders of the world has been outworn and the word Wonder itself has been misused too often, the visitor will rediscover its true meaning when faced with the rock churches of Lalibela.

Ever since the first European to describe Lalibela, Francisco Alvarez, come to this holy city between 1521 and 1525, travelers have tried to put into words their experience, praising it as a “New Jerusalem”, a New Golgotha”, the Christian citadel in the Mountains of Wonderous Ethiopia”.

The inhabitants of the monastic township of Roha – Lalibela are unable to believe that the rock churches are entirely made by man.

The Zagwe kings ruled until the 13th century when a famous priest, Tekle Haymanot, persuaded them to abdicate the favor of a descendant of the old Axumite Solomonic dynasty.

According to legend before the throne of Ethiopia was restored to its rightful rulers, upon the command of God and with the help of angels, Lalibela’s pious zeal converted the royal residence of Zagwe in the town of Roha into a prayer stone.

The Ethiopian church later canonized him and changed the name of Roha into Lalibela. Roha, the center of the worldly might become Lalibela, the holy city; pilgrims to Lalibela shared the same blessings as pilgrims to Jerusalem.

Especially at Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany held on Jan 19) a vivid ritual unfolds before the spectator; here the dances of the priests take place after the annual repetition of mass baptism in the river Jordan.

Coming to Lalibela you will find an atmosphere of mystery. Approaching the village from the airport you will catch the glimpse of a group of churches. Walking through the village you will see the quite even austere mountainous landscape of the region of Lasta, where the farmers labor to cultivate their patches of s\fields with a traditional hook plough.

These monuments of faith offer a secluded life dedicated to prayer and contemplation without regard for the riches of this world.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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