Saturday, October 17, 2009

LALIBELLA: A LIVING SHRINE




Lalibela is a town in the wild rugged mountains some 2630 meters above sea level in Northern Ethiopia. Wonder is piled upon wonder in Ethiopia, but nothing prepared me for the rock-hewn churches in this town.  Here, 800 years ago, King Lalibela decreed that 11 churches be carved out of the bare rock landscape. Some of the churches are 10 meters high and all have been carved by thousands of hands completely underground or out of the walls of caves, surrounded by trenches and walled courtyard. They are connected to each other by a maze of dark tunnels and passageways. Each church is different and unique in size and shape; carved and decorated with symbols from the bible. The churches of Lalibella are like a village within a village. Today archaeologists are divided on how this astonishing feat was achieved.


At the crack of dawn, our guide Solomon took us from the hotel where we observed white robed priests emerging from cracks between the rocks, with bible and leaning sticks, heading to the chanting rooms of the churches. A priest at Beit Georges Church told me that the churches were carved by angels. Who am I to disbelieve him?

WITH OFFICIAL GUIDE AND FRIENDS NICOLA AND NEOMI
CHANTING ROOM

CHURCH PRIEST
Next to him, in small crevices that had been carved out of the rock wall, lay the bones of some
of his deceased predecessors. Lalibela churches are not crumbling monuments of a lost civilization, but an 800 year old active Christian community and shrine; the living soul of the Christian Orthodox tradition in Ethiopia, the second-oldest Christian country on earth. On religious feast days, such as timkat - Ethiopia's equivalent of the Epiphany - thousands of pilgrims descend on Lalibela and the priests’ parade the church's sacred tabots, replicas of the Ark of the Covenant, which are shrouded from mortal view by heavily brocaded cloth.



Lalibela is as magnificent as Petra in Jordan; the mountain setting is as wild and remote as Machu Picchu in Peru, and as important, if not more, than the Pyramids in Egypt.






All these together make Lalibela a Unesco World Heritage Site. But for the lucky few who have walked along the deep, chisel-cut ravines that link the churches and gazed upon the carvings of saints, kings and the Holy Trinity that decorate the church's walls, Lalibela is the unofficial eighth wonder of the world.



The chanting, drum beats and swaying of the priests and deacons is a scene to behold! I feel as if though I was witnessing a scene from 800 years ago. The churches are living and breathing monument with scenes from centuries ago acted out every morning.
MEN AND WOMEN HAVE SEPARATE ENTRANCES TO THE CHURCH
SITTING OUTSIDE CHURCH GOLGOTHA; WOMEN ARE NOT ALLOWED INSIDE
This is the entrance to Church Golgotha, women are not permitted to enter.
In three words! Lalibella is awesome! No traveler to
Ethiopia should miss this glorious setting high in the mountains of Northern EthiopiaTo see more pictures of Lalibella, please click on the photo stream in the right sidebar.

4 comments:

Clarence Hulse said...

Totlly awesome...

Jane said...

Fascinating....

Angela Palacio said...

Linda thanks for sharing. This is unbelievable. What an experience! I never knew this existed. Thanks for sharing with us. This alone makes me want to go to Ethiopia.

Louise said...

Truly amazing. I can't imagine what it must be like to see this in person. Really an eye opener.

Thanks for sharing.