The Mysterious Underground Cathidrels of Ethiopia
Constructed unlike anything else in the world entering the 11 monolithic churches of Lalibela are said to be like entering another world. Each church was painstakingly carved by hand from a single block of stone right into the bedrock, including their passages and tunnels. For centuries, the origin of Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches has eluded everyone except locals, who firmly believe they were carved by angels.
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. 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.
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 as a “New Jerusalem.” 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.
Many people believe that the Lalibela rock churches housed the ark of the covenant. There are also claims that just as there are 12 disciples there are 12 churches and the ark is still hidden there in a 12th church that is not disclosed to the public. This disputes clames that the ark is securely locked inside a treasury beside the Church of St. Mary of Zion.