The great churches in Ethiopia

Picture courtesy of Bieta Giyorgis

Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent, uncolonised country.

The town of Lalibela, originally known as Roha, was renamed after the 12th-century by King Lalibela.

During his reign more than 900 years ago, King Lalibela commissioned a set of church buildings to form a New Jerusalem, in a small town called Lalibela,  in Ethiopia. This town is known to be home to one of the world’s most astounding sacred sites:

King Lalibela’s motives were to create a New Jerusalem for those who were unable to make it to the pilgrimage the Holy Land.

He also wanted to create a sacred city to rival the powerful African kingdom of Axum, also known as Aksum, which was founded in the 1st century CE.

This great kingdom is located just above the horn of Africa, the northern edge of the highland zone of the Red Sea coast.

Axum was the first sub-Saharan African state to mint its coinage and, around 350 CE, the first to officially adopt Christianity.

Axum even created its script, Ge’ez, which is still in use in Ethiopia today.

The Church of Maryam Tsionmost is one of the most important churches at Axum. According to later Ethiopian medieval texts, this church houses the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark of the Covenant supposedly is still present inside the church, but nobody is ever allowed to see it, confirmation of its existence is difficult to achieve.

Picture courtesy of Phillip Lee Harvey at

It's worth noting that the king did not attempt to copy the churches of the Holy Land, Lalibela’s most sacred and holy architecture could not be more distinct.

These churches in Lalibela were not constructed — they were excavated.

One of the churches pictured is St. George’s church. This church is one of the 11 churches still standing today in a rural Northern Ethiopian town, Lalibela.

What's so astonishing about these churches, is that each church was created by first carving out a wide trench on all four sides of the volcanic tuff rock, then the workers will tenaciously chisel out each rock with only hammer and chisel, to form the interior.

Picture Courtesy of Pascal Rateau

The workers would start at the top and meticulously carve down each layer creating the roof and walls of the church.

Legend has it that angels came every night to pick up where the workmen had left off.

Bet Maryam, which is one of the 11 churches contains a stone pillar on which King Lalibela wrote down the secrets of the construction of the building.

This pillar is covered with cloths and only the priests may look at it.

Picture courtesy of Phillip Lee Harvey at

The largest church in Lalibela is 40 feet high, and the labour required to complete such a magnificent structure with only hammers and chisels is astounding.

St. George’s church is one of the very important places for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Christians. In 1978, this church together with the other churches we're declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.




Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment