Lalibela’s Rock-Hewn Churches Made by Angels

Imagine walking across a hill, and suddenly noticing a huge church in a crevice below you. Not a small church. Not a church constructed by wood, bricks or cement. But a church dug and carved straight out of the mountain.


Legend has it King Lalibela, in the late 1100s, was poisoned by his brother and went into a coma for three days. During that time he had a vision of angels bringing him to heaven and showing him the churches he was to construct. When the king awoke, he set out to carve out eleven churches out of the ground below the Lalibela village. He finished this task in just over forty years, in the beginning of the last millennium, without any dynamite, drills or other modern tools. A miracle? The Ethiopians sure think so.

The Lalibela churches are sometimes called the eight wonder of the world, and they should be, even though we had never heard of them before. The sheer size and complexity of them is mind-blowing. Five of the churches are as big as normal churches, 15 meters high (or deep), but they are made in one single piece.


If only the Ethiopian government would do a better job of promoting Lalibela and the other villages on the Ethiopian Historic Route, perhaps this would bring in money to support the suffering population. There is nothing else quite like this anywhere in the world.

Putting our imagination to work, the construction must have went something like this: Measure out the size on top of the hill. Start digging into the mountain. Carve out a several feet wide valley around the church. Start carving your way into the church. Measure, measure, measure, to make sure the walls are of equal height, width and depth. Make sure all the details, like crosses in the ceilings and ornaments around the windows are of exactly equal size, shape and position. When done, dig another valley around the church to lead off the rain water and protect the church, and add tunnels for easy access to and between the churches. Repeat ten times.

Only a crazy person would attempt to do this.

They say it would have taken 40,000 men to finish the task. Perhaps they brought in workers or slaves from other countries. Or perhaps, as the Ethiopians believe, angels helped build these churches.



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