August 21, 2015

1842 ETHIOPIA (Amhara) - Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela - Church of Saint George (UNESCO WHS)


In a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia (the second country which adopted Christianity, after Armenia, in the first half of the 4th century), at Lalibela, 11 medieval monolithic churches were carved out of rock. Actually, Lalibela flourished after the decline of the Aksum Empire, and is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and a center of pilgrimage. Unlike Aksum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. The building of the churches is attributed to Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela (negus of Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century) who set out to construct a New Jerusalem, after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

There are two main groups of churches, to the north and to the south of the river Jordan, one representing the earthly Jerusalem, and the other representing the heavenly Jerusalem. The eleventh church, Bete Giyorgis (House of St. George), is isolated from the others, but connected by a system of trenches. The churches were not constructed in a traditional way but rather were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. These blocks were further chiselled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs etc. This gigantic work was further completed with an extensive system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs.

The Church of St. George is among the best known and last built of the eleven churches, it seems after Lalibela's death (c.1220) by his widow as a memorial to the saint-king. Carved from a variation of limestone called tufa, the dimensions of the trench are 25m by 25m by 30m, and there is a small baptismal pool outside the church, which stands in an artificial trench. It is a magnificent culmination of Lalibela's plans to build a New Jerusalem, with its perfect dimensions and geometrical precision, and its roof in the shape of a Greek cross.

About the stamps
The first and the last stamp, depicting Menelik's Bushbuck (Tragelaphus Scriptus Menelik), are part of a series containing 24 definitive stamps, about which I wrote here.  The second, depicting Afework Gebreyesus, is part of the series Ethiopian Writers 2nd series, bout which I wrote here.

References
Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela - UNESCO official website
Lalibela - Wikipedia
Rock-Cut Churches of Lalibela - Sacred Destinations
Church of Saint George, Lalibela - Wikipedia

Sender: Adam Wole
Sent from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), on 08.08.2014

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