Religious structures have a different meaning to everyone and there are incredible, long-standing cathedrals that can humble newcomers with their beauty, just as there are slightly mysterious temples that wow visitors with their architectural flourish. No matter what the building is, it's the history, spiritual meaning, and skillful construction that make these destinations some of the most popular in the world. One of the most astounding of these is the rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia, also known as 'New Jerusalem.'
The origins of these churches remain somewhat shrouded in mystery as it's known by whom they were created, but not how. Similar to the Great Pyramids, the sheer amount of manpower and work it would have taken to build these churches - 11 in total - is nearly incomprehensible, considering the short timeline between their conception and their completion. According to those who built them, they had a little bit of help from a celestial source: Angels.
The Conception Of The Churches
In order to determine the timeline of these incredible churches, we must go back to the beginning of the 13th century A.D. The ruler of Ethiopia at the time was Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, and it was during this time that the churches were excavated. While this is what modern archeology states, it's also believed that these churches could have been created as early as half a millinium prior to this time. The name of the area, Lalibela, is likely associated with the churches due to the ruler who stood over Ethiopia at the time. Therefore, it's possible for these churches to have been around during the Axumite Kingdom which far predates Lalibela's reign.
Along with its early origins, the exact method by which the 11 structures were built is still unclear. Archeologists and researchers have been able to determine which tools would have been required but in terms of time and manpower, the explanation simply is not there. It's said that angels came to Lalibela and asked its people to build the churches and thus, work begun on the tremendous architectural undertaking. Supposedly, angels would work through the night while men worked through the day in order to complete the churches within a total of 24 years.
However, experts have a significant problem with this time table. According to archeologists who have studied the churches, it would have been nearly impossible to do the amount of work with only one village, let alone with the early tools that were available to them. It's estimated that even today, the same amount of work with similar tools would take far longer than that. There's also the question of the massive amount of rock and soil that needed to be removed in order to create the network of churches which, to this day, still has not been located.
The Unanswered Questions
Many believe these churches to be a miracle and the world of something - or someone - truly angelic. The area encompasses 11 churches in total, all of which are connected via passageways. These passageways runs 36 feet deep which, in itself, is a tremendous feat and required an extraordinary amount of digging. The largest of these churches is called Medhane and stands towering over the others at 33 feet and has a length of just over 100 feet. Another church, called Bet Giorgis, is devoted to Saint George. The history goes that Saint George himself was responsible for overlooking the construction of this church, his presence there for the entirety of its architectural design.
Archeologists are still asking questions, the most basic of which is how they were created with such crude and basic tools - tools that couldn't possibly have served to complete the amount of work it took to build all 11 churches. The earth required excavating on a significant level and archeologists are still unaware of how this could possibly have been completed, considering earth was removed from the entire area as well as from the insides of each church and building. Another question is how enormous rocks were carried away since there were no signs of machinery that could accomplish this, as well as no location in which they were left. And, perhaps the most important questions: Why were these churches built in the first place, and who was the first to share the story of the angels?
The world might never know how the rock-hewn churches were truly built or if there is a spiritual truth to their construction. However, those who have been there - and continue to make pilgrimages to their location - will say that the being in the presence of such great work is humbling, extraordinary, and unlike any other.