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Humanities LibreTexts

7.8: Ethiopian Lalibela Church Complex (12th and 13th Centuries)

  • Page ID
    31853
  • Lalibela (7.38) is located in northern Ethiopia and is known for its churches carved directly out of bedrock. Lalibela is one of the holiest areas of Ethiopia since the 12th century and was named after King Lalibela (1181-1221), the Ethiopian ruler. The eleven churches built in the 12th and 13th centuries are grouped into two main sites, five north of the river Jordan and five south of the river. The eleventh church (Biete Ghiorgis) is isolated from the others; however, connecting trenches form a pathway to the other churches. The names and layout of the churches and buildings are presumably patterned after the layout of Jerusalem.

    Lalibela
    7.38 Lalibela

    The churches were carved directly from the rock of the mountain into monolithic blocks. The massive blocks were chiseled into doors, windows, columns, roofs, floors, and pillars. Four of the churches are entirely freestanding and attached to the rock at the base. The others vary from semi-detached to those with just the façade emerging out of the rock. A vast network of drainage ditches was constructed to carry the naturally flowing water away from the buildings and keep the areas dry. They added trenches and ceremonial passages as well as openings into small caves and catacombs, integrating the entire complex.

    Biete Ghiorgis
    7.39 Biete Ghiorgis

    Each of the churches has a different and unique design and configuration. Biete Ghiorgis (7.39) is laid out in a cruciform shape and thought to be the most elaborately executed site. The church is a cube extending 15 meters deep into the ground, leaving the roof (7.40) at ground level. Biete Medhani Alem (7.41), with its five aisles, is considered to be the world’s largest monolithic church. Many interiors in each church are covered with murals, bas-reliefs, and sculptures. From the exterior, Biete Abba Libanos (7.42) appears large; however, the interior space is quite small, the roof and floor still part mountainside.

    Biete Ghiorgis roof
    7.40 Biete Ghiorgis roof

    Each of the churches has a different and unique design and configuration. Biete Ghiorgis (7.39) is laid out in a cruciform shape and thought to be the most elaborately executed site. The church is a cube extending 15 meters deep into the ground, leaving the roof (7.40) at ground level. Biete Medhani Alem (7.41), with its five aisles, is considered to be the world’s largest monolithic church. Many interiors in each church are covered with murals, bas-reliefs, and sculptures. From the exterior, Biete Abba Libanos (7.42) appears large; however, the interior space is quite small, the roof and floor still part mountainside.

    Biete Medhani Alem
    7.41 Biete Medhani Alem
    Bete Abba Libanos
    7.42 Bete Abba Libanos

    Each of the churches has a different and unique design and configuration. Biete Ghiorgis (7.39) is laid out in a cruciform shape and thought to be the most elaborately executed site. The church is a cube extending 15 meters deep into the ground, leaving the roof (7.40) at ground level. Biete Medhani Alem (7.41), with its five aisles, is considered to be the world’s largest monolithic church. Many interiors in each church are covered with murals, bas-reliefs, and sculptures. From the exterior, Biete Abba Libanos (7.42) appears large; however, the interior space is quite small, the roof and floor still part mountainside.