In the 12th century, King Lalibela ordered the building of a second Jerusalem, now dubbed as the “New Jerusalem” when the original was captured by Muslims in 1187.

By Thomas Page (CNN) |

From all corners of a nation they come, often walking for hundreds of miles barefoot: Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Their destination is Lalibela in the north of Ethiopia. A town of approximately 20,000 people, Lalibela’s population swells five-fold in the first days of January, pilgrims converging to celebrate Genna (or Ledet) — Christmas according to the Ethiopian calendar.

What they’re here for is to take a path from darkness into the light; through 800 years of history and enter a “New Jerusalem” — tangible, permanent and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But most of all, they’re here for God.

Step into the ‘New Jerusalem’

In the 12th century AD King Lalibela, Ethiopian leader and Christian, ordered the building of a second Jerusalem when the original was captured by Muslims in 1187 AD. The result was 11 interconnected churches, carved into the mountain by hand. But unusually, Lalibela’s churches were dug straight into the ground. Hewn out of solid rock, perhaps best known is the Church of St George, shaped in a Greek Orthodox cross.

ALSO READ► TRAVEL: Trekking and Climbing Debre Damo, EthiopiaNearly impossible to see at a distance, the impressive feat — completed in 23 years — provided a safe space for Christians to pray, hidden from Muslims invading from the North.

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