Church of Saint George, Lalibela
The last of the eleven rock-hewn churches to be built in Lalibela, the Church of Saint George, known locally as Bete Giyorgis, was built by King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty and remains a site of huge cultural and religious significance.
According to popular mythology, the king had an apparition in which one of God’s angels told him of plans for a building which could bring heaven down to Earth.
Inspired by his vision, the king commissioned the project to build the Church of Saint George. The mythology continues, insisting that upon its completion the same angels visited the site, and blessed all those who were present.
It is said that the hoof-prints of the white stallion that St George rode on the day the church was completed can still be found imprinted in the rocks surrounding the church.
Visiting Lalibela is to walk amongst a net of myths and legends. Local guides are well-versed in the mythology, less so on the scientific facts. It's up to you to parse the fact from the fiction, but these stories - passed down for generations - are all part of the magic of visiting this incredible place.
Built on a cruciform plan, the sole material used in its construction was the volcanic rock found already on site.
The church has three west facing doorways, and a series of windows. Each layer of the building have distinct motifs, leading to the roof which is covered in intersecting crosses that lie within a bigger Greek cross.
The walls of the church reach a staggering 30 metres, and over 3,400 metres cubed of rock was excavated from the site in order to shape the exterior of the monolith. From here, a further 450 metres cubed was removed in order to facilitate the lavish interior.
The entrance to the church is accessible via a network of sunken trenches and tunnels that lead to a series of adjoining churches, sanctuaries and baptismal courtyards.
Amongst the labyrinth of sanctuaries lies a number of tombs, housing former monks and priests who dedicated themselves to the church and to ensuring its longevity.
The church also houses an array of hidden treasures, only accessible to a few high ranking members of the priesthood. Amongst these treasures is a wooden box apparently carved by the king himself.
On entry, you'll be struck by the brightly coloured frescoes depicting the trials and tribulations of St George, circled by interweaving blue, gold and red patterns.
Spread across the room, these paintings lead all who visit through a spiritual rabbit hole, full of painted prophetic predictions based on the dream King Lalibela had all those years ago.
Now officially recognized as the eighth wonder of the world, the Church of St George is a mesmerizing display of commitment to faith, and represents the beating heart of spiritual Ethiopia.
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