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Ethiopia: Bet Giyorgis Church

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Bet Giyorgis Church | Ethiopia | Africa

[Visited: October 2006]

After visiting the other two groups of churches in Lalibela, it was time to visit the most impressive and famous one - Bet Giyorgis or Church of St. George. I had had a glimpse of the church from a distance before, when I almost by mistake saw the easily recognizable roof of the church. As I followed my guide in ancitipation, we first had a view of the church from above. From this vantage point, it was easy to see how construction of the church had been: the rock had been carved out, forming a deep and wide trench, after which the church had been carved out of the remaining rock.

Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Bet Giyorgis: looking up this famous church from below

According to legend, after King Lalibela finished constructing ten rock-hewn churches, St. George was so upset that there was no church dedicated to him, that he personally paid the king a visit to settle the issue. King Lalibela felt bad about it, and promised he would build the most beautiful church for St. George. And so he did: even now, few would contest that Bet Giyorgis is the most perfect church, and the most spectacular at least from the outside, of all of the churches in Lalibela. In reality, the church was probably carved out after Lalibela died. In any way, it is the youngest of the churches in Lalibela: early 13th century. From above, you see the Greek cross-shape of the church, and appreciate the large cross carved in the roof of the church. As anywhere in Lalibela, you can walk right up to the edge, and look deep down into the trench around the church.

Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Priest on the stairs of Bet Giyorgis church

On the other side of the church, you can walk down to the entrance. First, you will see some holes in the rock, which according to legend are the prints of the hoof of St. George's horse, who apparently was so happy with the church that he rode his horse right into the entrance from above. In a small cave, you will see some skeletons, apparently of pilgrims who wished to stay near the beautiful church and be buried right there. Inside, the church appears straightforward, with some nicely carved out windows. There is a huge toolbox with an enormous screw closing it, and the usual old goatskin books and elaborate cross. The best view of the church can be had from the top, where the setting sun casts a warm light on this incredible construction. Fortunately, the church has a drainage system for water on the roof; hopefully, it will never be covered by the scaffolding effectively making having a look at the other churches impossible.

Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Roof of Bet Giyorgis or St. George church: shaped as a Greek cross
Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Looking at the sky with Bet Giyorgis church in the foreground
Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): St George church, or Bet Giyorgis: clearly hewn out of the surrounding rock
Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Looking over Bet Giyorgis church
Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Famous Greek-cross formed roof of Bet Giyorgis church
Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Gree-cross roof of Bet Giyorgis in the late afternoon
Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Close-up of roof of Bet Giyorgis or St. George church
Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Windows in the top of the rock-hewn church of Bet Giyorgis
Picture of Bet Giyorgis Church (Ethiopia): Looking down Bet Giyorgis church

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