or centuries, Christian pilgrims — and tourists — have travelled to the mountainous region of northern Ethiopia to visit the 11 spectacular medieval churches carved out of rock.
After Muslim conquests blocked Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land, King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century, set out to construct a “New Jerusalem,” which remains a pilgrimage site and place of devotion to this day.
Christianity’s roots in Ethiopia go back to the time of the Apostles, who in the first century A.D. set out to spread the Gospel throughout the world. By the 4th century, it was adopted as the state religion during the reign of the ancient Aksumite emperor Ezana.
The 11 churches, each carved out of a single piece of rock, were described by a Portuguese priest, Francisco Alvares, one of the first Europeans to see the churches as among the world’s great wonders:
“I weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more … I swear by God, in Whose power I am, that all I have written is the truth..”
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches maintain an important role in Ethiopian Christianity. Virtually untouched since they were built, the churches also continue to fulfill their original function, drawing pilgrims on Ethiopian church’s feast days. A community of priests and monks live there and administer to the faithful.
To wander around the churches using this 360-degree photosphere, visit this link.