Down one of the Pathways

St. George's Church

also called Bet Giyorgis

LALIBELA x xxxAfrica's Petra was located in a mountain village. Lalibela was named after a king from the end of the 11th century. After his birth, a thick cloud of bees surrounded his cradle. His mother named him "honey eater" because the bees recognized his sovereignty. According to the legend, a jealous older brother poisoned Lalibela. He was transported to heaven where he stayed for three days. God instructed him to return home and build a church, the likes of which had never been seen before. He did more than just build one; he built thirteen!

The stone churches were carved from soft, red, volcanic rock. There were secret passageways, narrow corridors, a few monks, an abundance of beggars, and so much ambiance. There were even boys to be paid to care for shoes that were left at the church entrances.

I always thought that Saint George and the dragon was an English tale. Well, he was a big time saint in Ethiopia, too. Actually, he was the patron saint of the country. In nearly every church I visited, if not all, there was a painting of George on horseback as he killed the dragon and saved the damsel in distress. The churches in Lalibela were no exception. The story goes that just as King Lalibela was finishing off his series of churches, a very unexpected visitor suddenly faced him. Astride a white horse and decked out in full armor came George himself. The saint turned out to be upset because not one of the churches had been dedicated to him. Lalibela profusely apologized? (What else could you do when a full armored knight was mad at you?) He promised to make amends immediately. Bet Giyorgis (the Place of George) was the most beautiful (and my favorite) church.

The churches in town were divided into three groups. The largest ones were clustered together in group one. Large portions had scaffolding and tin roofs to protect the buildings. Not very photogenic. Group three was St. George's church alone. Apart from the others, it was a cross-shaped structure carved from solid rock. The ceiling was ground level and from there the church was carved down. A trench was carved around it and then more rooms were carved into the walls facing the church. It was the postcard church and my reason for coming to Lalibela.

Copyright 2001 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.