Lalibela (a.m.)/ Addis Ababa (p.m.), Ethiopia

  • Date
  • 17 September 2000
  • Lodging
  • Sheraton Addis
  • Distance
  • 390 KM
  • Total
  • 101026 KM

We’ve just returned from Lalibela with a dozen twelfth and thirteenth century rock-hewn churches built during King Lalibela’s reign. The churches, chiseled entirely by hand, are monolithic sculptures carved from rock and connected by a vast tunnel network, much of which can still be explored today. I stood in awe as we discovered these ancient places and delighted in reviewing 800-year-old sacred books, but wondered whether these masterpieces shouldn’t be better preserved. How long will this history remain without maintenance and conservation?

During Sunday morning mass, we listened to priests of all ages, draped in white cloth, read in Ge’ez from centuries-old, handmade books of the Bible. Priests shook brass musical instruments (a sort of tambourine) as some chanted and sang in Ge’ez, a language used today only by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Other priests rested on religious canes placed under their arms since mass continued for several hours. Large, wooden and leather drums, played mostly by young boys, complimented the services. At Bet Medhane Alem (House of the Redeemer of the World) a solemn priest rubbed the 800-year-old, seven-kilogram, solid gold Lalibela Cross over the bodies of believers who desired healing or blessing. No one seems to know the circumstances that led to the disappearance of the Lalibela Cross in 1997 or its recovery in 2000.