Ethiopian Christian faith radiates between 2 cities: Jerusalem and Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia.
‘Jerusalem of Africa’ is one of the names given to Lalibela.
A sacred journey into a biblical world hidden in East Africa in Ethiopia’s highlands- Lalibelafamous
for its unique 12th century monolithic churches carved out of the “living rock”, as
legend has, it was built with more than a little help of the angels.
It is named after King Lalibela who ordered the construction after the Holy Land was taken by Muslims
and the Christian pilgrims could no longer make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Ethiopian faithful make
pilgrimage to Lalibela at least once in their lifetime.
The Ethiopians have a long association with Jerusalem dating back to King Solomon:
Ethiopian emperors claimed a line of decent from Solomon as result of his union with the
Queen of Sheba.
Unlike other UNESCO heritage sites, it is not an archeological site but a living compound of churches
serving the local community and the pilgrims who come every orthodox Christmas . Since the day it
was built to our times.
According to scholars the churches were built from a cosmopolitan mystical understanding of the
Christian religion, and it may be the most mystical of all Christian sites. It is fascinating how the art
works and architecture at Lalibela hint at doctrines found in Ancient Greece and some ancient
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is an ancient church that developed uniquely and
indigenously, free from western influence, which developed into a special and independent
church like no other in the orthodox world.
As the only pre-colonial Christian church of sub-Saharan Africa, the Ethiopian Orthodox
Church was founded when pagan emperors still ruled Rome.
Every year thousands of pilgrims make their way to sacred Lalibela by bus, or by foot to celebrate
Christmas. Fascinated by their devotion, I joined the pilgrimage, its faithful worshippers, the rituals
and ceremonies, some of which are very ancient and preserved to this day, seem almost to illustrate
the Old Testament.
In the days ahead of Christmas, Lalibela becomes the beating heart of Ethiopian Orthodox faith. Tens
of thousands of white-clad worshippers flock through tunnels and passageways connecting the
churches, rushing from shrine to shrine in their quest to visit all holy sites.
Priests in traditional Shammas and white turbans bearing prayer sticks and sistrums (percussion
instruments) sing and dance to the sound of African drums, all night. At dawn large processional
golden crosses and icons are brought out to the sound of ululations from the devout crowds
celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
It is a truly biblical scene.