For centuries, the origin of Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches has eluded everyone except locals, who firmly believe they were carved by angels.

By Jack Barker (BBC) |

I have always questioned God’s existence, but in the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela, I was presented with fairly substantial evidence.

Officially Christian since 330AD, Ethiopia claims to be the oldest Christian country in the world. And despite being ravaged by poverty, faith has remained strong over the centuries; Lalibela’s medieval rock-hewn churches are clear proof of that.

Each of the 11 monolithic structures is dramatically stamped into the mountainous landscape, plunging 40 to 50m into the Earth and pierced with cross-shaped slats to let sunlight into the hollowed-out interior.

There are several theories surrounding the creation of these extraordinary places of worship. Some believe they were carved by the Knights Templar, Christian crusaders who, during the 13th Century when the churches were created, were at the height of their power. But there’s no concrete evidence of their involvement.

The most heavily circulated hypothesis – and the one propagated by the small museum near the entrance to the churches – is that they were hewn under the orders of King Lalibela, emperor of Ethiopia during the late 12th and early 13th Centuries, who is said to have visited Jerusalem in 1187BC just before the Holy City fell to Muslim forces. King Lalibela built these churches around Ethiopia’s own stretch of the Jordan River, his intent being to welcome Christians to a ‘New Jerusalem’.

Yet the museum doesn’t seem to put its heart into pushing this theory; on display is a fragile adze, an axe-like tool that King Lalibela’s workers supposedly used to sculpt the churches from the ground. Even allowing for 900 years of wear, it looked better suited to hooking weeds out of soil than carving rock.

Instead, the thousands of worshippers who attend daily services inside the churches accept a much more divine explanation: that King Lalibela was assisted by an army of angels, who completed the 11 churches in one night.

Continue reading this story at BBC
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