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May 7, 2007

Ethiopia's Glorious Past - the Churches at Lalibela

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LOCATION: Gondar, North Ethiopia
Longitude: N:12deg.39'
Latitude: E: 037deg.30'
Kms from Djibouti: 1,407

Before arriving in Ethiopia I was one of those ignorant people who still associated the country with famine, war and desperate images of people close to starvation and small children with swollen stomachs wandering in amongst sacks of food aid. In the 1980's this was all we seemed to see of Ethiopia on our TV screens in the west. What I didn't realize then, but do now, is just how rich the cultural and religious history of this country is. Sometimes its hard for me to reconcile the two profiles: the glory days of old with the modern version containing so much poverty, misery and suffering.


A few interesting pieces of local trivia for you....

Did you know for example that one of the lost tribes of Israel ended up here, leading to over 14,000 'Falasha', or Black Jews, being airlifted to Israel in the 1977 'Operation Solomon'? Also Christianity reached Ethiopian well before Europe, leading to one of the world's several branches of Orthodox Christianity being established here with now over 40 million members. And St. George (as in dragon slayer) is one of the most important patron saints of the country.


The north Ethiopian city of Aksum was once home to the Queen of Sheba, who reputedly visited King Solomon to discuss trade and seek out his wisdom. Legend has it that she returned to Ethiopia carrying Solomon's child, born as Menelik, the first King of Ethiopia. And according to Ethiopian tradition, the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Aksum and still resides there today in the Chapel of the Tablet, protected by a single, lifelong guardian who is the only living human being allowed to view it. Heady stuff!


One legend that has rock solid evidence today are the rock hewn churches at the tiny town of Lalibela, offering me the excuse for a side trip to take in what has been described by some as the 8th wonder of the world. The story goes that King Lalibela visited Jerusalem in the late 12th century and upon his return decided to build a new Jerusalem as a response to Muslims capturing the old one in 1187. The result today is 13 churches built either out of the solid rock as monolithic structures or as cave structures which are cut inwards from a more or less vertical cliff face, often utilizing an existing cave as a start point.


They instantly reminded me of the rock hewn temples at the Ellora Caves that I visited north of Mumbai in India last year. Completed just 200 years before the churches at Lalibela, one can't help but wonder if there was some connection between the two in terms of the inspiration for the way they were formed: below ground level in both cases to avoid detection and destruction by Mongol marauders in the case of the Ellora Caves and Muslim invaders in the case of the churches at Lalibela.


Tomorrow the Castles of Gondar, inspiration perhaps for J.R. Tolkien's famous walled city in the 'Lord of the Rings'?

Many thanks in the meantime to the Sheltons of Northmoor, UK, who have brought the totally needed to ship Moksha back to Europe with a very generous donation of $500.


> Total to raise: $4,500
> Total raised to date: $2,900
> Total still to raise: $1,600

Sincerest thanks to the following for your pledges -
- The Sheltons, UK, $500
- Karl Kaseoru, US, $500
- John and Bridget Maxwell, UK, $50
- Jennifer Mackenzie, US, $50
- Ian McCormick, UK, $200
- Terry Mason, California USA, $200
- Jackie and Jean Bernard, Djibouti, $250.
- Erden Eruc and Nancy Board of Around n Over, Seattle USA, $250
- Sharon Kessler, Colorado USA, $500
- Jane Koca, San Jose USA, $50
- John Caldwell, San Jose USA, $100
- Greg Kolodziejzyk of Pedal the Ocean, Canada, $250

Posted on May 7, 2007 3:42 PM