Formerly known as Roha, it now bears the name of king Lalibela (1181-1221) a member of the Zagwe Dynasty. Shortly after his birth Lalibela ethiopiaat Roha. The future king’s mystical life began to unfold.

Legend has it that one day his mother saw him lying happily in his cradle surrounded by a dense swarm of bees. Recalling an old Ethiopian belief that the animal world could foretell the advent of important personages.. the second sight came upon her and she cried out, ‘The  bees know that child will become king’. Accordingly she called her son ‘Lalibela’ which means the bee recognizes his sovereignty.

Lalibela’s older brother, Harbe, the incumbent monarch was naturally disturbed to hear this news and become jealous. As the years passed he began to fear for the safety of the throne decided to eliminate his rival unsuccessfully tried to have his brother murdered.
Presecutions of one kind or another continued for several years, culminating in a deadly potion that the young prince in mortal sleep. During the three day stupor.

Lalibela was transported by angels to the first, second and third heaven where God ordered him to return to Roha and build churches, the like of which the world had never seen before. The almighty, it is said, further told the prince how to design those churches, where to build them and how to decorate.

After Lalibela returned to mortal existence Habres acting on instructions from the lord, went to pay homage to him and beg his forgiveness. Two brothers then, rode together on the same mule to Roha and Harbe abdicated in favor of his younger brother.

When Lalibela was crowned, he gathered stone masons, carpenters, tools, set down a scale of wages and purchased the land needed for the building. The churches were built with great speed because the angels continued the work at night.

The churches can actually be divided in to two main groups one to the south and the other to the North of a stream known locally as the Jordan River. The first group churches lie in their rock cradles one behind the other north of   the river. They are Six in number
Bete Gologota
Bete Mikael (Also Known as Bete Debre Sina)
Bete Meskal
Bete Denagle
Bete Mariam and
Bete Medhane-Alem

Bete Medhane-Alem:- is the Largest of all the Lalibela churches taking the form a Greek Temple, it is unusual in being entirely surrounded by square shaped columns, with a further forest of twenty eight massive rectangular columns supporting the roofs inside. In a corner of the church one can see three empty grave said to have been symbolically dug for the biblical personages of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A theory that is put forward is that Bete MedhaneAlam is a copy of in rock of the original church of Saint Mary of Zion at Axum.

Bete Maryam:– A few minutes’ walk from Bete Medhane Alam is Bete Mariam, Which stands in a spacious courtyard. It is the most beloved not only of the Lalibela clergy, but also of the many pilgrims streaming into its courtyard on holidays.  Legend says that King lalibela also favored this church above all and attended mass there daily.

A box of the royal family of Lalibela is still shown on the western wall of the courtyard opposite the main entrance. A deep square pond in the courtyard is said to have miraculons properties and infertile women dip themselves in the algae covered waters at certain times of the year, particularly at Christmas.

Dedicated to Mary, the mother of Christ, this church is alone amongst the Lalibela monoliths in that it has a projecting porch the remains of early unusual frescos can be seen on the ceiling and upper walls, and there are many elaborately carved details on the piers, capitals, and arches.

Chapel of Bete Meskel: In the northern wall of the mariam courtyard is the excavated chapel of Bete Masqal. It is a broad gallery, with the row of four pillars dividing the space into two aisles spanned by arcades. One spanned between two arches contains a relief cross beneath stylized foliage, a decorate motif often found in Lalibela. Beta masqual also contains several large caves, some of them inhabited by hermits.

Chapel of Bete Denagil: Getting out on the south of the Bete Mariam courtyard is the little chapel of Bete Denaghel, which is connected with one of the most fascinating legends of Lalibela.

Priests will tell you that the chapel was constructed in honor of maidens martyred under Jalian the Apostate. Who ruled Rome in the mid fourth under Julian   the Apostate, who ruled Rome in the mid fourth century, the time when Christianity was first brought to Axum.
It is said that fifty young maidens, nuns, and novices, who lived a pious life under the supervision of their abbess sofia in Edessa (present-day Turkey), where ordered to be killed by Julian when he passed through the town and learned of the nunnery.

The abbess and her young maidens were beheaded. This tiny chapel in the mountains of Ethiopia helps keep alive the memory of their modest contemplative life and their last moment of bravery in professing their Christian faith.

Bete Michael (Bete DebreSina): Bete Michael is considered a twin church of the more northern bête Golgotha. Two windows in the southern wall of Bete Golgotha give light to the two shriens-the right hand one is the selassie Chapel and the left to the ‘Iyesus Cell’ located at the east of the right –hand nave of the church proper, Not far from the ‘Tomb of Christ’ an  arched recess in the north –east corner of the church – is movable slab set into the floor, said to cover the most secret place of the holy eity, the tomb or crypt of king Lalibela.

Bete Golgota: Bete Golgotha although in its architecture, houses some of the most remarkable pieces of early Christian Ethiopian art Figurative relief rare else were in Ethiopia. The tomb of Chris displays are cumbent figure in high relief with an angel in low relief above its head.

The figures of seven saints, mostly larger than life, decorate arched niehes in walls. Some of the most beautiful processional crosses of Lalibela are shown to tourists in the Bete Golgotha. One, a very rich and elaborate metal cross, black with age and decorated with inlaid circles, is said to have belonged to king Lalibela. His rod and stool, also said to have been his throne, may also be shown here

Silassie Chapel: A door way at the east end of the right – hand nave of Bete Gologota opens on the Selassie Chapel a place of greatest sanetity that is rarely open even to th priests. And very few visitors have been permitted to enter it. The shrine is completely imprisoned in the rock and features three monolithic altars.

The central altar displays a relief decoration of four winged creatures with hand raised in prayer, tought to be representations of the four Evangelists.

The Tomb of Adam: The  simple but impressive Tomb of Adam is a huge square block of stone, which stands in a deep trench in front of the western face of Bete Gologota. The ground floor of this hollowed-out block serves as the western entrance to the first group of churches, and the upper floor houses a hermit’s cell. A cross is the only decoration of the tomb.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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