From Academic Kids

Lalibela is a city in the ethnic division, or kililoch, of Ethiopia called Afar. Lalibela is one modern Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. Unlike Aksum, the population of Lalibela is very nearly 100% Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.

This rural town is known around the world for its monolithic churches, which were built during the reign of Saint Lalibela (a member of the Zagwe Dynasty) who ruled the Ethiopia in the 13th century. There are 11 churches, assembled in three groups:

  • The Northern Group: Golgota, Beta Qedus Mikael, Beta Mayal, Beta Maryam, Beta Danagel and Madhane Alam;
  • The Eastern Group: Amanuel, Beta Marqorewos, Beta Abba Libanos, and Beta Qedus Gabra'el;
  • The Western Group: Beta Giyorgis

Contrary to certain spurious myths, the great rock-hewn churches of Lalibela were not built with the help of the Knights Templar; rather, they were produced solely by medieval Ethiopian civilization. (This is testified to by the presence of many architectural decorations and styles similar to those of the ancient Ethiopian capital city of Aksum.)

During Lalibela's reign, the current town of Lalibela was town as Roha. "Lalibela" itself means "the bees recognise his sovereignty." The saintly king was given this name due to a swarm of bees that 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 monolithic churches themselves are said to mimic names and patterns observed by Lalibela during the time he spent in Jerusalem and the Holy Land as a youth.

The first European to see these churches was the Portuguese priest Francisco Alvarez, who accompanied the Portugese Ambassador on his visit to Lebna Dengel in the 1520s. His descripion of these structures concludes:

I weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more ... I swear by God, in Whose power I am, that all I have written is the truth1

Although Ramuso included plans of several of these churches in his 1550 printing of Alvarez's book, it is not known who supplied him the drawings. The next reported European visitor to Lalibela was Gerhard Rohlfs, at some time between 1865 and 1870.

See also


  1. Francisco Alvarez, The Prester John of the Indies translated by C.F. Beckingham and G.W.B. Huntingford (Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1961), p.226. Beckingham and Huntingford add an appendix which discuss Alvarez's description of these churches, pp. 526-42.

External links

pl:Lalibela sl:Lalibela sr:Лалибела


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