Lalibela, Ethiopian churches carved in the stone

The Church of St George
The Church of St George
Lalibela, Church of Saint George
Lalibela, Church of Saint George

When I was younger, there was a cartoon on television in which they always mentioned the churches of Lalibela, and somehow I used to think that it was not actually real,… you know like these made-up places in cartoons!  Isn’t it interesting that the name Lalibela always made me think of honey bees (abeille in french)… Imagine my surprise when I found out that it is said that at birth a swarm of bees descended on the baby king’s head, and his Mother named him Lalibela, meaning “the bees have recognized him as king!

Lalibela, Bete Medhane Alem church
Lalibela, Bet Gebriel Rafael church

Carved straight from red volcanic stone, and actually from a single stone, Lalibela is the place of pilgrimage of thousands of christians every year, and is one of Ethiopia’s holiest places. It was intended to be the New Jerusalem, in response to the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims. The architecture of Lalibela was revealed to King Gebrel Mesqel Lalibela one night in his dreams (he is said to have seen Jerusalem in his dreams) by God; he was instructed to build churches never seen before. Lalibela is actually made up of 11 medieval churches rock-hewn. Many of its names come from Jerusalem, like the Yordannos (Jordan) river, the church of Mary, etc.  The most well-known is the Church of Saint George (or Bet Giyorgis in Amharic) which was probably the last one built around the 13th century and has the shape of a cross and has been referred by some as the 8th wonder of the world. It is about 30 m deep, and is simply stunningly beautiful! Talk about a church built on stone!

Lalibela, Bet Medhane Alem
Lalibela, Bet Medhane Alem

Lalibela is now regarded as one of the greatest Ethiopian architectural wonders and is ranked the eighth most incredible historical site in the world by UNESCO. It entered the UNESCO world heritage in 1978. Ethiopians themselves love to tour their own country and treasures, and about 1/3 of the tourists at popular Ethiopian sites are Ethiopians.

Check it out on the UNESCO website (, Ethiopia Travel (, and

Also check out youtube=

3 thoughts on “Lalibela, Ethiopian churches carved in the stone

  1. Pingback: The Timkat Festival or the Ethiopian Epiphany | African Heritage

  2. Reblogged this on African Heritage and commented:

    The BBC recently published an article about Lalibela and its churches in Ethiopia, and I thought about reblogging the article I wrote about it many years ago. The article I wrote, “Lalibela, Ethiopian churches carved in the stone,” was one of the first posts on my blog. It talked about the bees being a central part of Lalibela’s churches; this article also helps to see the evolution of the blog, from the very beginning to now. It is sweet to realize that some of the stories on this blog caught our eyes before they caught those of the BBC: Ethiopia’s miraculous underground churches. Cheers!



  3. Pingback: Ethiopian New Year… A Look at the Ethiopian Calendar – African Heritage – Nsemkeka

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