We start by paying our entrance fee, which includes a short tour through a museum containing priceless artifacts, and a brief history of this place.
Once completed, we walk the short path to the entrance, while given instructions of what is/isn’t allowed.
With shoes off, the smooth stone felt under feet has a calming nature. As we approach Biete Medhani Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), I gasp for breath.
This monolithic stone is an architectural marvel. It is widely believed that after the Muslims took over Jerusalem, the Ethiopian Christian Orthodox people built this sacred site to preserve their beliefs. These churches were covered by the earth with tunnels and drainage systems connecting one to the other underground.
We enter to see the beauty inside, and meet a high priest for the first time of many to come. They guard the holy artifacts inside, covering them with cloth so they are not visible.
I touch the rock walls and a surge of energy flows through my arm. Next to come is Biete Mariam ( House of Mary). I notice the Swastika, and ask Shambel why it is carved into this church.
“This symbol’s meaning is for the Sun, which is the giver of life.”
I am torn between this meaning and the horror this symbol holds to most of the world. I ask Shambel about the Nazi’s, but he only shrugs. For him, the meaning here in Lalibella is of the most importance.
Many women are at the walls and entrance ways to the doors, praying with holy books clasped to their chest. Shambel lets us know to be respectful, but that we are not intruding. It is a place full of peace.
We find ourselves at the top of the church on an adjacent rock. From this vantage point I can see groups of children doing religious studies under olive trees, and the town off in the distance. Prayer chantings are heard reverberating off the rock walls. I say a little prayer to myself.
As we make our way through the tunnels and pathways connecting the churches, Shambel stops at an entrance, and let us know that we are at the Tomb of Christ, and only men are allowed inside. Master P is a little indignant, but it is explained that no women are allowed due to the betrayal of Mary Magdalene. I slowly enter….
Our last stop is at St. George’s church, probably the most famous and well known. Built in the 12th century, you can’t grasp it’s true size when you first see the top of it from the excavated hole in which the church lies.
Another monolithic ( one stone) wonder beholds me, and I feel the power in the church as I rub my bare hand across it. As we sit in silence next to St. George’s, I take pause to be thankful and lucky enough to see the eighth wonder of the world.
Can’t wait to see what the next day will bring….