King Lalibela (1181-1221) moved the capital from Aksum to here. When he was born his mother saw a swarm of honey bees around his mouth revealing that he would be a holy man so named him “Honey Eater” that is Lalibela. He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and so on his return he decided to carve churches out of living stone and create a Holy Land in his Kingdom where his people could pilgrimage. The site is impressive and has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage site http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/18 so UNESCO built roofs over the structures to prevent further deterioration and continue to finance its restoration. These churches continue to be the center of Ethiopian spiritual life. My guide is excellent.
The best way to unfold this mystery in stone is to have you walk with me through the wonder of creativity and imagination.
I entered the northwestern complex of churches and encountered Bet Medhane Alem, House of the Savior of the World. The massive structure is overwhelming
when you realize these are not constructed but hewn out of rock.
Descending to the church of the Savior of all Nations. This is a monolithc church carved out of stone. He traced out the design on the stone ground then excavated. Then he excavated by carving a door then worked from bottom up to carve out the interior.
This is the rock from which the church was hewn. The fallen column is original. Some columns have been replaced. The guide pointed out there are 72 columns that represented the 72 disciples the Lord sent out: 34 outside and 38 inside that support a central barrel vault and four flat roofed side aisles.
On the eastern wall are three windows representing the Trinity. In the middle series of windows you see a cross which represents the descent of the Word into the womb of Mary represented by the third window, and the final window symbolizing the cross of crucifixion. Now to the left is the cross of the good thief.