There are thousands of stone churches built in Ethiopia, the oldest Christian country in the world. However, there are churches with peculiar architecture, which are churches hewn from monolithic stone.
How do you build a stone construction? Our usual way of thinking is that they are going to mine the quarries to get the blocks, cut the blocks into the desired shape, transport them to the construction site, and then build the building from the bottom up, as high as the hewn blocks. . But this way of doing things seems “old-fashioned”. People also have another way, to carve exposed rocky cliffs into a work. This is done at the temple in Kailasa, India. There is another, more bizarre way where there are no exposed rocks, is to go deep into the rock foundation for tens of meters and carve it inside to create a structure. In this way, people “build” stone works from top to bottom.
So where is there such a project? You can find it in Ethiopia, where Africa is far away.
Nhà monolithic church
The town of Lalibela in North Wollo Province, Amhara State, is located at an altitude of 2,500 meters above sea level in northern Ethiopia.
With only 1,500,000 inhabitants, Lalibela is one of the holiest cities in Ethiopia. It was the former capital of the Zagwe dynasty and a pilgrimage center for Ethiopian Christians.
The reason Lalibela has become the sacred site of this devout Catholic country is that the 11 churches are monolithic stone located underground. These megalithic works are divided into 3 groups and are connected by passages cut in the rock like labyrinths.
In the northern group of works, the Church of Bet Medhane Alem (Church of the Savior) is considered the largest monolithic church in the world. This structure is 33.5 m long, 23.5 m wide and 11.5 m high. There is a sculpted roof collar supported by 34 square columns.
The interior of the house is open with 3 separate doors in the West, North and South directions. However, the walls of this church showed signs of cracks, so scientists erected a metal roof to protect the structure from damage.
The western group of the house has the Church of Bet Giyorgis (Church of St. George), which is the best preserved. The Church of Bet Giyorgis is located in a stone ditch carved deep into the ground with dimensions of 25 × 25 meters wide and 30 meters deep. It is also the most beautiful and famous building with a flat cross-shaped surface with many sophisticated sculptural details.
When the sun goes down, buildings appear pink, then turn yellow and moss green before darkness takes over.
The most eastern group includes four churches dedicated to the royal family.
The elaborate construction process
Legend has it that in order to be able to build 11 churches in 24 years, King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela employed 40,000 skilled stone carvers.
To shape the churches, the stones used rudimentary tools such as hoes, levers, and small axes to dig deep trenches to separate the building from the bedrock. Each church structure has a roof as high as the ground and is 40 to 50 m deep.
In order to be able to create 11 elaborate works, sculpture work will be started from the top of the building, including roofs, ceilings, arches and windows above and below and down to the base, including the floor. , large doors, large interior space composed of solid stone columns supporting the ceiling, the walls of the church, created by cutting horizontally into the block of stone.
So that the rainwater drains quickly, the foundations of the churches are made on a slight slope. The salient elements of the architecture such as roofs, gutters, window sills, etc. extend over different lengths, depending on the predominant direction of the rains.
Controversy on the origin of the work
Several theories surround the construction of these magnificent synagogues. Some believe that the Templars, who were part of the Crusaders, at the height of their power in the 13th century – when these structures would have emerged – were the ones who created them. However, there is no concrete evidence for this.
The most widely disseminated theory – and the same preached at the small museum near the entrance to the church – is that the churches were hewn at the behest of King Lalibela, Emperor of Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early of the 13th century, who is said to have visited Jerusalem in 1187 just before the Holy Land fell into Muslim hands.
However, objects on display in museums near church entrances do not fully support this hypothesis. The construction tool shown here is a frail-looking ax-shaped device that King Lalibela’s builders are said to have used to carve the church from the ground up. Even with less than 900 years of corrosion, this tool is still more suitable for weeding than for sharpening stone.
Instead, the thousands of devotees who attend church services daily believe in a more mystical explanation: that King Lalibela was assisted by a troop of angels to complete these 11 churches in a short period of time.
Suppose King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela could mobilize 40,000 qualified stone carvers to build these 11 churches. How to feed and provide working conditions for 40,000 people for 24 years given the economic conditions in Ethiopia at that time was a big question.
Another question, why is it necessary to build 11 churches only on an area of 1km2? Considering Ethiopia’s population 900 years ago, was it necessary to build so many churches in one region?
It can be seen that the architecture and sculptural level of some monolithic churches in Lalibela are very modern, shallow and sophisticated, surpassing the level of construction of Ethiopia almost 1,000 years ago. So how did the Ethiopians 900 years ago envision and build structures beyond their comprehension at the time?
In 11 megalithic structures known as Christian churches in Lalibela, windows carved in the shape of a Buddhist swastika were also found. The swastika symbol appeared 2,500 years ago with the appearance of Shakyamuni Buddha and Buddhism. The cross is considered a symbol of Christianity. So why do Buddhist symbols appear in Christian churches?
Reasonable hypothesis on the origin of monolithic churches
In the 1520s, the Portuguese priest Francisco Alvares, when he came to Lalibela to admire the monolithic churches, exclaimed: “It is not easy to describe these structures in detail, because that means that I cannot not believe that they are all artificial. “
So if it wasn’t the Ethiopians 900 years ago who built the 11 stone churches of Lalibela, who built these structures?
It has now been discovered that the Egyptians 4,000 years ago were not the ones who built the great pyramids at Giza. Or, 900 years ago, it wasn’t the Cambodians who built Angkor Wat. Likewise, many of the great religious buildings in India were not built by the Indians of this civilization.
The discovery shows that the largest, most beautiful and most certain parts of these structures were built by prehistoric civilizations, 5,000 years before this civilization. The ancients of this civilization used, completed, or built replicas right next door with less technical level, aesthetic value and durability. This makes it impossible for people today to distinguish who the real owner is who built them.
Based on the above reasoning, it is possible that the Ethiopians discovered monolithic churches 900 years ago, renovated them, and used them for Christian religious purposes. For example, it is likely that Christian designs, carvings of saints, or damage repairs were added by the Ethiopians 900 years ago. It is also possible that the prehistoric people only built part of these 11 churches, the rest were built by the Ethiopians of this civilization. These subtleties make the origins of these 11 monolithic churches even more mysterious.