(Due to issues with wifi connections, a couple of these posts are a few days late.)
Today was our first venture out in Lalibela. Right after getting out of the car we were greeted by a group of kids who all spoke English very well. Some became friends with us right away and Tau’Toya’s new little friend told us that he was aspiring to be a doctor some day.
Our adventure into Lalibela was one I think most of us sat back and thought, “Is this really our life?” I say this because we had the opportunity to see the monolithic rock churches from the 12th century. The rock churches are considered to be the “African Jerusalem.” This is apparent, as it is a replica of Jerusalem itself led by Saint Lalibela after Jerusalem was taken over by the Muslims. They consist of eleven churches total hand carved and built from rock, 6 of which are connected through an underground tunnel. It took 23 years to finish building all of the churches.
We were able to see most of the churches as well as experience traveling from one church to the next through the underground tunnels. This was an adventure in itself as we did a train line, holding onto the person in front of us and then having our hand above touching the ceiling so we did not hit our heads. We had the option to take the way with light, but we thought it would be more fun and basically turned into an entire teamwork deal. The only downside to this was also walking in the presence of a few bats that were fortunately asleep while we were in there.
The time spent into building the churches was obvious by the beauty displayed in the artwork, and every design in the church had a meaning. Whether that was to symbolize Mary, Jesus’ birth and death, or something to do with the twelve apostles, everything symbolized holiness in some way. We had our tour of the churches the day before a holiday, which was Saint Michael’s Day. One of the churches is named after Saint Michael and when we went inside there were people crowded into the small area praying and preparing to celebrate his holy day. There was one room in Saint Michael’s church where women were not allowed to go into so the two men on the trip were able to see everything but the rest of us women had to stay out in the other worship room.
It is always amazing how devout people are to their religion here in Ethiopia. If they are committed, they put in one hundred percent. They travel from all around to experience the different holy days. It is said that Christian’s in Ethiopia are expected to take a trip to Lalibela to the churches at least once during their lifetime. There were multiple holes or small pools about 9 meters deep around the outside of the churches where baptism could take place. There was one hole that is said to help infertile women if they are devout enough, than God will grant them fertility after being dunked into the holy water around Christmas time.
Since there were so many churches to see, we took a break halfway through for some lunch. The entire restaurant was like “being inside and injera basket” so to say with its beautiful woven colorful ceiling. The menu’s were also beautifully designed, basically like a page in a scrapbook. After lunch we continued our adventure, this time with a little unexpected hiking involved and climbing up “stairs” that were made from the rock and dust throughout the churches. Always an adventure, but never a dull moment. We saw more of the churches but I think we can all agree they really did save the best for last. Saint George’s church was something to remember for a lifetime. It was underground and the top of the roof was shaped as a cross. This was a very famous view from the Lalibela churches. Once we traveled from the top to the bottom of the church we were able to see the remains of a skeleton that was believed to be someone traveling from Jerusalem. Being around that history in itself was something amazing. Picturing what life must have been like traveling thousands of miles for a better life and religion.
It was a great day of exploration and we ended it with a bit more shopping.