• Marieke Van Autreve

Carved Out Churches & Christmas in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Every year around the 7th of January, thousands of pilgrims dressed in white robes flock through the terraced mountains of northern Ethiopia. They are devout Christians trudging towards the holy Churches of Lalibela, also called The New Jerusalem. Inez Travels joined the Pilgrims in a slightly more comfortable way and saw the festivities happening from close by

Lidet (Gena) - Ethiopian Christmas Festival

Saint King & The New Jerusalem

At the end of the 12th century, so somewhere in the nineties of the 1100s, the area of Lalibela, then called Roha, was ruled by a Saint King called Gebre Mesqel Lalibela who claimed to have spent some time in ancient Jerusalem. That same holy city had been taken over in 1187 by the Muslims and Saint King Lalibela has a vision that Saint George and God himself instructed him to rebuild Jerusalem in Ethiopia. And so he did. He came up with ideas for 11 churches to be carved out of one single block of rock each.

11 Churches Hewn out of Rock

He came up with ideas for 11 churches to be carved out of one single rock of volcanic tuff each. There are two clusters of churches, one representing the “Earthly Jerusalem” the other symbolising the “Heavenly Jerusalem”. Alle churches carry a biblical name starting with Bet (which means “house” in ancient Hebrew). I visited all of them, but the most breathtaking one is without a doubt The Church of Saint George (photos above). Its dimensions are actually only 25 by 25 by 30 meters but the history and emotionally laden symbolism for the local Christians are huge.

3 Days of Christmas in January

Christmas in Ethiopia, also called Lidet or Gena happens on the 7th of January according to the Julian calendar that pre-dates the Gregorian calendar. It’s a three day festival of white robes. Tens of thousands of pilgrims make their way to Lalibela to take part in rythmic chanting and ululating ceremonies. After hours of showing devotion the God, the kick off for feasting and celebrating is officially announced by the local priest and people return home to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

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