Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela (1978)

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The 11 medieval monolithic cave churches of this 13th-century 'New Jerusalem' are situated in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia near a traditional village with circular-shaped dwellings. Lalibela is a high place of Ethiopian Christianity, still today a place of pilgrimage and devotion. 

UNESCO (France) 1984. Ethiopia. Churches of Lalibela.

Ethiopia 1970. The four Rock Churches.

  • UNESCO (France) 1984. Churches of Lalibela. Notice that the churches are shaped as a cross. 
  • Ethiopia 1970. The four Rock Churches. 
The rural town of Lalibela is known around the world for its monolithic churches, which were built during the reign of Saint Lalibela (a member of the Zagwe Dynasty), who ruled Ethiopia in the 13th century. 
  • Ethiopia 1958. Air Post. Emperor Haile Selassie's profile overlooking the Lalibela churches (in the left side of the stamp) and the Axum Obelisk.  

There are 11 churches, assembled in three groups. 

The Northern Group consists of Bieta Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world. It is linked to Bieta Mariam (possibly the oldest of the churches), Bieta Golgotha (known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela), the Selassie Chapel and Tomb of Adam. 

Ethiopia 1970. Bieta Medhane Alem. Ethiopia 1967. Lalibela Cross. Ethiopia 1970. Bieta Mariam.

Ethiopia 1970. Bieta Giorgis [George].

Ethiopia 1970. Bieta Amanull [Emmanuel].

The Western Group includes Bieta Giorgis, considered to be the most finely executed and best preserved of the churches. 

The Eastern Group contains the Bieta Amanull [Emmanuel], (possibly the former royal chapel), Bieta Merkorios (which may be a former prison), Bieta Abba Libanos, and Bieta Gabriel-Rufael (possibly a former royal palace), linked to a holy bakery. 

  • Ethiopia 1970. Bieta Giorgis [George]. 
  • Ethiopia 1970. Bieta Amanull [Emmanuel]. 

During Lalibela's reign, the current town of Lalibela was known as Roha. "Lalibela" itself means "the bees recognise his sovereignty." The saintly king was given this name due to a swarm of bees said to have surrounded him at his birth, which his mother took as a sign of his future reign as Emperor of Ethiopia. 

The names of several places in the modern town and the general layout of the monolithic churches themselves are said to mimic names and patterns observed by Lalibela during the time he spent in Jerusalem and the Holy Land as a youth, this being probably also the reason why the complex is known as "New Jerusalem". 

Although the below set is not directly related to Lalibela, it is appropriate to show it here. The stamps display murals from Ethiopian churches in a quite attractive way, and are likely to be from the so-called Zara Yaqob-period. 

Ethiopia 1975. Murals from Ethiopian churches.

Zara Yaqob (literally "Seed of Jacob") who lived 1399-1468, a member of the Ethiopian Solomonid Dynasty, was an Ethiopian emperor, whose throne name is known as Kuestantinos (Constantine) I. Zara Yaqob was vital for the Ethiopian Church, and church murals from his reign are scattered throughout the country. 

Sources and links: 


Other World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia (on this site). Inactive links are not described on postage stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Ethiopia section for further information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 20 jul 2006  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus 
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