What am I doing in Ethiopia? Great question, one I’ll save for a later post. Let’s just jump right into it –
After 30.5 hours of traveling, from New York, through Istanbul, and an overnight stint in the Addis Ababa airport, we in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Sadly, my luggage did not. Thank goodness for the airplane kit with the socks & the toothbrush, which downgraded the situation from desperate for a shower to minor inconvenience.
What we’ve seen is too magnificent for my usual brevity, so I’ve written a bit more below:
The Second Jerusalem
In the 12th Century, King Lalibela of Ethiopia was poisoned by his step-brother, in a power struggle. The King fell into a deep coma, during which angels instructed him to build a second Jerusalem (in response to Christian-ruled Jerusalem falling from Crusaders to Muslim rule in 1178). From his childhood and/or exile memories of time spent in the Holy Land, King Lalibela spent the next 23 years carving 13 magnificent rock churches into the stone ground. The churches are divided into 2 clusters – one which represents physical Jerusalem & the other heavenly Jerusalem.
The churches are hewn down into the volcanic rock. That is to say, they are not carved into the sides, rather the roofs are parallel with the ground; one must walk down a set of rock stairs, surrounded by high rock walls, and there before you appear freestanding, monolithic churches. Each is entirely different, but the sites are inspired by the original Jerusalem – there is a Golgotha, tomb of Adam, and even a man-made Jordan river between the Northern & Southern clusters. The churches house treasures of 12th C paintings, icons, and wooden tabernacles. Sadly, ever since the 15 lb. gold cross was returned in 1999 (having been stolen in 1997), it’s no longer on display for tourists.
Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity
Ethiopia is the only country in Africa never to have been colonized. The Christianity here is not that prosthelytized by Europeans in the 19th Century or brought over by modern missionaries ala “Book of Mormon.” Christianity here traces back to the very origin of Christianity. There is a strong Judeo-influence on the traditions, which makes sense given that what is being practiced is 1st Century Christianity and with Ethiopia and the land of Israel deeply connected through history and myth (King Solomon & Queen Sheba). In fact, until 1974, the Ethiopian flag bore the Lion of Judah as its symbol.
Travel to Lalibela
Where to stay: Tukul Village – great find & value, very clean, unbelievable views, great food, and free wifi & breakfast. President Clinton has even stayed here.
Where to eat: Tukul Village for breakfast, Ben Abeba for the views, and Seven Olives for the best food in town
– use a guide for the Churches; I highly recommend Tilahun, whom we used (message me for contact information)
– fly to Lalibela — it’s a 1 hr. flight from Addis Ababa (as opposed to the 2 day bus ride)