Africa’s Ancient Churches Carved From Living Rock

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ID 140027375 © Rudolf Ernst | Dreamstime.com

Lalibela one of the holiest cities in Ethiopia, known for its vast monuments of ancient and post-medieval civilization, carved within the earth from “living rock.” Lalibela plays a significant part in the history of rock-cut architecture.

Ethiopia, with a population of almost exclusively Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, was one of the most primitive nations to embrace Christianity.

Ethiopia’s historical origins are thought to date back to the time of the Apostles. The churches are considered to date back from roughly seventh to the thirteenth century.

Churches and monasteries of Ethiopia’s heritage are hewn out of the faces of the cliffs and built on hilltops.

Rock-cut architecture is sculptured by excavating solid rock designed and made by man from beginning to end. Generally, rock-cut structures are carved out by starting at the roof and working downward to prevent stones from falling on the workers below.

Church of Saint George, Bete Giyorgis, Lalibela

The Church of Saint George, named Roha (Warwar) initially, is one of the eleven rock-hewn monolithic churches in Lalibela. The shape is a Greek cross with each arm of identical length and a motif engraved with a triple Greek cross on the roof.

Bernard Gagnon
Bernard Gagnon

Mikael Milhaizenghi Church

The Mikael Milhaizenghi Church has a recessed ceiling as you enter the left-hand doorway, which the most striking feature of this church. The dome is a circular shallow relief carved from the sandstone rock.

Bernard Gagnon
Bernard Gagnon
Bernard Gagnon

Debre Damo Monastery

Debre Damo is one of the most important churches of Christianity. This tiny modern church is built in front of the cave where one of the nine saints Aragawi who brought Christianity to Ethiopia, is said to have disappeared.

Apparently, Saints were often associated with disappearances rather than death. Skeletal remains of monks can be seen protruding from the shrouds in the alcoves in the cave walls.

Monk climbing a rock wall at Debre Damo Monastery, Ethiopia
ID 150036224 © Timwege | Dreamstime.com
View to the rural surroundings and the hill, on top of which the famous 6-th century Ethiopian Debre Damo Monastery is located in Tigrai region, Ethiopia.
ID 106324302 © Dmitry Chulov | Dreamstime.com
ID 112490482 © Oscar Espinosa Villegas | Dreamstime.com
Priest looking over scarp at monastery Debre Damo, near Adigrat in Tigray Region, Ethiopia.
ID 112489752 © Oscar Espinosa Villegas | Dreamstime.com

Monastery Neakuto Leab – Na’akueto La’ab

Na’akueto La’ab monastery positioned in a cave below a massive rock ledge. The large shaped rocks in the form of bowls collect water that drips from the ledge, which the priests accumulate as holy water and use to sprinkle blessings on you.

Monastery Neakuto Leab near Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
ID 140027375 © Rudolf Ernst | Dreamstime.com
Monastery Neakuto Leab near Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
ID 161745259 © Rudolf Ernst | Dreamstime.com
Monastery Neakuto Leab near Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
ID 140027065 © Rudolf Ernst | Dreamstime.com

Abuna Yemata Guh Monastery 

A steep and hazardous ascent reaches the entrance with hand and footholds in the rock, as well as a strenuous ascent up a vertical rock wall.

Old Ethiopian man standing at the entrance of the Abuna Yemata Guh rock hewn church in Tigray region, Ethiopia. Many take the dangerous walk to the church 200m above ground to come and worship.
ID 106183097 © Therina Groenewald | Dreamstime.com
Ancient church in the Gheralta mountains near Hawzen in Tigray Region
ID 157478269 © Christian Offenberg | Dreamstime.com
Ancient church in the Gheralta mountains near Hawzen in Tigray Region
ID 157478880 © Christian Offenberg | Dreamstime.com
ID 113647097 © Vladimir Melnik | Dreamstime.com

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