There are no less than 1000 churches in the Lasta Region of Lalibela alone. Some are hidden in enormous caves, while eleven of these master craftsmanship are found in one locale, Lalibela, previously known as Roha.
These eleven churches are brilliant feats of engineering and architecture and are often referred to as the “Eighth wonder of the world“.
The Lalibela churches are truly amazing because of two major features. The first one is the fact that these towering edifices were hewn out of the solid, red volcanic tuff on which they stand. In consequence, they seem to be of superhuman creation – in scale, in workmanship and in architectural concept.
The second amazing feature is the location where they are built. The destruction of the churches by Queen Judith may have warned the builders to hide these churches from future prying eyes and plundering hands of hostile interlopers.
Thus, when one approaches these churches from the road below, they remain little more than invisible against a horizon dominated by the 4,200-metre peak of Mount Abuna Yosef.
Even close-up, they seem wholly unremarkable, and it is this camouflaged, chameleon quality that may have kept them safe to this day.
‘Lalibela churches, silence the most cynical pedants. Close examination is required to appreciate the full extent of the achievement because, like medieval mysteries, much effort has been made to cloak their nature.’
When an inquisitive mind compares the shabbiness of the present day lalibela town with the magnificence of the rock-hewn churches, one is forced to wonder why the extraordinary craftsmanship displayed in the building of the churches, did not ‘rub off’ even a little to the other local residences of the nobles.
Because of this, there are some that think that the builders of the rock churches actually lived somewhere else, but selected that spot because of its location.
The sheer magnificence of the craftsmanship make others wonder whether the art and the builders came from Egypt. This, at least can be refuted very easily because of two factors:
- There are no Egyptian buildings in Egypt that resemble the rock churches.
- The idea for the rock churches may have been taken from the various rock churches of Tigray built centuries ago. The fact that the water supply system is fashioned after the one at Debre-Damo Monastery, concludes that the origin of the art is Ethiopia, and the builders are Ethiopians.
With all said or some to be said regarding the Lalibela Churches, the fact that Lalibela is a secret marvel that was fashioned by a noble king, and maintains a special and lasting place in the life of the Ethiopian Christians, is clearly established.