Classic Ethiopia Tours

Churches & Monastery

Bet Medhane Alem

Approaching the most eastern church of this group, Bet Medhane Alem (House of the Redeemer of the World) , you first catch a glimpse of the roof, decorated with relief crosses connected by blind arcades, and the upper part of the solemn colonnade surrounding the church: The roof still shows traces of the plaster remains of the restoration efforts of the early 1930's. The tuff, from which the church is carved, glows a typical deep pink colour in striking contrast to the brownish-yellow earth and green-leaved trees of the landscape. Standing in the courtyard you face the largest of the rock-hewn churches. 

It has been cut free from a block of stone 33.7 m. in length, 23.7 m. in width and 11.5 m. in height. It is a noble structure, standing on its plinth with its pitched roof and surrounding external columns, somewhat reminiscent of ancient Greek temple architecture.

Bet Maskal

The chapel of Bet Maskal(The House Of The Cross) has been excavated in a bulge in the northern wall of the Bet Maryam courtyard. It is a broad gallery of 11 m. length and 3.4 m. width. A row of four pillars divides the space into two aisles spanned by arcades. The doorways show imitation of monkey-head framework. Beams of light deflect downwards into the chapel from two windows, one of them having a swastika design through which is pierced a Greek cross, while the sanctuary window opening has a Maltese cross motif. A frieze of arches between two projecting horizontal courses finishes the facade on top.

Bet Danaghel

Bet Danaghel (The House Of The Virgins Or Martyrs). Jutting out at the south of the Bet Maryam courtyard is the little chapel of Bet Danaghel (8.6 m. length and 3.6 m. height). This tiny chapel is connected with one of the most fascinating legends of Lalibela. Priests will tell you that the chapel was constructed in honour of maidens martyred under Julian. The memorial day of the maidens is the 10th of Hedar (November) in the Ethiopian calendar. 

Bet Debre Sina and Bet Golgota with the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam

This is the most mysterious complex in Lalibela, housing its holiest shrine, the Selassie Chapel, and according to the whispers of the priests - perhaps even the tomb of King Lalibela himself. While the ancient entrance to this group was probably from the west, passing the hollowed block of the Tomb of Adam, the courtyard is now entered from the south, being connected by the trench leading to the Bet Maryam churches. A side door leads to the first church, Bet Debre Sina or Bet Mika'el.

Bet Debre Sina

Bet Debre Sina(House Of Mt. Sinai) displays a proper east-west orientation and has a raised chancel. The holy of holies is in the east. Thus, we may assume that it has always been an independent and separate church. It is a semi-monolithic creation measuring 9.5 X 8.5 m. and resting on a steep plinth 3 m in height. On three sides it is exposed by excavation to a trench, the northern side leading to Bet Golgota.

Bet Golgota

Leaving Bet Debre Sina you enter its northern twin church, Bet Golgota (The House Of Golgotha). Bet Golgota represents the type of excavated church with one worked facade (the west face).

The Selassie Chapel

From Bet Golgota a doorway at the east end of the right-hand nave next of the one leading to the "Iyasus-Cell" opens on to the Selassie Chapel - the place of greatest sanctity in Lalibela. A curtain covering two thirds of the wall will offer you only a glimpse inside the shrine. The ribs decorating the ceiling in the shape of a cross might also be discernible. This holy place is rarely open even to the priests themselves, and very few visitors have been permitted to enter it.

The shrine is completely imprisoned in the rock. A single pillar supports the roof with its barrel-vault in the rear section and flat-arch above the platform with the three monolithic altars. This pillar, which has no base, rises up more than five metres to the apex of the vault.

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