Monolithic Marvel: The Rock-hewn Church of Saint George, Lalibela Ethiopia

There’s an instant sense of unadulterated astonishment and wonder to seeing in person the perfectly symmetrical cruciform structure of the Church of Saint George in the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela. For although it is equivalent in height to a four story office block, not an inch of it rises above ground level. To touch its pinky rock-hewn surfaces, surrounded by sheer walls 50 feet high, is to understand the enormity of such a task, while to hear the rhythmic chanting of its religious services is to be transported back hundreds of years.5343320549_22a53afeb6_b-minKnown in Ethiopia’s Amharic language as Bet Giyorgis, the monolithic Church of Saint George was cut from the bedrock with the most basic of hand tools, and is just one of 13 of all different architectural styles and shapes in Lalibela. Located in the Lasta Mountains, more than 8,000 feet above sea level, amid the steep slopes of craggy bare mountains and vast escarpments, the town was long considered the kingdom of the legendary Christian ruler Prester John when reached by European adventurers.Rock-Hewn_Churches,_Lalibela-107572-min

Although the church’s real origins are lost in the mists of time, with Bet Giyorgis dating back at least 800 years, local legend has it that Saint George was so upset that none of Lalibela’s other churches had been dedicated in his honor he sought to rectify the fact in a midnight vision to the king. Now the saint not only has an astonishing feat of ancient engineering to his name, but also a rather fine lager brewed in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.Lalibela_Bet_Giyorgis_23_(27886827003)-minWhat makes the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site Church of Saint George all the more stunning, as you pass through the long trench that leads to it from ground level before removing your shoes to enter the finely-carved interior, is the sight of the church as a functioning place of worship and pilgrimage site, mired in the elaborate and sometimes mysterious ceremonies of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The keys still hang from the belts of richly-robed priests, fierce guardians of the sanctity of the structure and protectors of the unseen Holy of Holies, while hermits continue to live in small cells cut from the precipitous walls all around. (images wiki commons)4954773267_9b7cdcb47a_b-min