HIGHLIGHTS Sun 4 Jan: Lalibela Nth Western Church

Sunday, January 04, 2015
Lalibela, Amhara, Ethiopia
Lalibela – Northwestern Cluster

These next 2 days are devoted to the rock hewn churches of Lalibela.

The Northernwestern Group or Cluster:

The Western Group or Cluster:
  • Biete Giyorgis (Church of Saint George), said to be the most finely executed and best preserved church.

The Southeastern Group or Cluster:

Farther afield lie the monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church (possibly eleventh century, built in the Aksumite fashion but within a cave).

First up was Bet Medhane Alem.

Shoes off and our "shoe man" Adisie gathered them up and took them to the exit door. What a service! He quickly worked out whose shoes were whose plus assisted those who needed assistance putting their shoes on. I was glad that I had my Birkenstock Boston slip ons! The floor inside the churches are covered with old mainly red rugs that make the walk much smoother. These rugs were famous for being infected with fleas, but it seems they have eliminated them once and for all as I got no flea bites on this trip.



Baptismal Pool

Out of Bet Medhane Alem and connected by a tunnel came out facing Bet Maryam and a large courtyard containing three churches next to the green waters of the Baptismal Pool.


Bet Meskal

Then to the right was Bet Meskal.



Bet Maryam

In the centre of the courtyard was Bet Maryam the only church with porches extending off it.




Bet Danaghel

Out of Bet Danaghel and we climbed the rock abutment above the tunnel that linked Bet Medhane Alem and Bet Danaghel. From up high we could see these two rock churches from a different angle.




Bet Golgota / Bet Mikael / Lalibela's Grave / Tomb of Adam

A trench at the southern end of the Bet Maryam courtyard connects it to the twin churches of Bet Golgotha and Bet Mikael.

Finally it was out via the Tomb of Adam.

With Christmas fast approaching many of the locals or pilgrims had already arrived and claimed their temporary campsite.





Bet Giyoris / St George's Church

Resting off on its own, St George’s Church is Lalibela’s masterpiece. Representing the apogee of the rock-hewn tradition, the Bet Giyorgis is the most visually perfect church of all, a 15m-high three-tiered plinth in the shape of a Greek cross; a shape that required no internal pillars. Due to its exceptional preservation, it also lacks the obtrusive roofing seen over the other churches.

There are also two 800-year-old olive-wood boxes (one with opposing corkscrew keys) that locals believe were carved by King Lalibela himself and now hold the church’s treasures. Some of the cavities in the walls surrounding the church hold mummified corpses.
This is the church that is seen in travel articles and brochures of Ethiopia and here I was standing above it. Yes, can tick off one of the reasons why I wanted to come to Ethiopia to see this sight for myself. I was glad that Christmas was approaching as it was the many locals present dressed in their white who made this morning so enjoyable and memorable. It was going inside the churches themselves which was for me going into the unknown. Then seeing how the locals both young and old were blessed by the priests.

Finally on leaving I took 2 selfies and am pleased with the second one being near perfect composition wise!







Asheten Mariam Monastery

Into the Coaster and up and away on the 8 km dusty switch back road up to near the top of Abuna Yoseph the high mountain towering above Lalibela and Asheten Mariam Monastery.

This 13th century monastery is ruggedly carved out of a cleft and built on a ridge with a near 360 degree view giving an excellent outlook over the surrounding countryside far below.

Hugging the cliff and through a cooling tunnel, it was a short 30 minute walk up to the Monastery itself.

We were the only foreign tourists there, so different to the morning down at Lalibela, The Gondar trained priest proudly brought out C13th hand and processional crosses of king Na’akutola’ab who ruled Ethiopia for 40 years just after king Lalibela and other treasures. The thumb / finger prints are that of the priest who have been charged with looking after these treasures.

Time for those landscape photos then back down through the tunnel, along the path besides the blue gums to the souvenir sellers and our awaiting Coaster.











Scottish Thistles – Ben Abeba

Looking like Scottish thistles, because the owner is Scottish and with her Ethiopian partner, Ben Abeba just out of town was our dinner venue. With spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, seated outdoor nestled into the bank away from the wind (not that there was much), with a fire going and under a cloudless sky, we watched the sun set. No clouds but that didn’t really matter.

It was so still here and felt that we were miles / kilometres away from all the cares in the world. I somehow thought of the many, many locals sleeping rough not that far away by the rock churches and wondered what sort of evening that they would be having. No doubt so different than ours!

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