Ethiopia: The Pilgrimage City of Lalibela– Also Known As The Second Jerusalem

The children I met in Lalibela were some of the friendliest I have ever encountered. Here we are in front of the tukul, or a traditional stone hut made from stone and mud that's now protected by UNESCO, outside the rock-hewn churches
The children I met in Lalibela were some of the friendliest I have ever encountered. Here we are in front of the tukul, or a traditional stone hut made from stone and mud that's now protected by UNESCO, outside the rock-hewn churches
The warmth in my heart from my trip to Lalibela came from the people I met. These children were some of the friendliest I had ever encountered. Here we are in front of the tukul, or a traditional stone hut made from stone and mud that’s now protected by UNESCO, outside the rock-hewn churches

“Welcome to Lalibela!” The friendly smiles and warm welcome of curious children I came across will always be my fondest memory of this city. The city of Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia is most known for the 11 rock-hewn churches, some of which date back to 5th and 6th centuries AD, which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lalibela was a short 45-minute flight from Axum, although I understand road travel is also a possibility.

It is sometimes known as the “second Jerusalem,” “the new Jerusalem,” “Jerusalem in Ethiopia” or “African Jerusalem” for several reasons. Firstly, the construction of the rock-hewn churches by King Lalibela was believed to be a deliberate attempt to create the second Holy Land in Ethiopia. He did this to discourage the journey of pilgrims to Jerusalem. This was to minimize the suffering and death of Ethiopian Christians in the deserts of Muslim lands on their way to Jerusalem. The town of Lalibela was thus a substitute for Jerusalem and a place of safety for pilgrims. That is why the churches are still a source of inspiration and hope for Christianity. Pilgrims to Lalibela are believed to share the same blessings as pilgrims to Jerusalem.

Secondly, the various place names in Lalibela are related to places in Jerusalem. They are Jordan, the Mount of Olives (Debre Zeit), the Tomb of Adam (Keranyo), Bethlehem, Bethany (Bithania), Mount Sinai and Golgotha.

Thirdly, according to local traditions, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela symbolize the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem. For example, Bete Mariam = Gethsemane; Bete Medhane Alem = The tent of the Ark of the Covenant; Bete Golgotha = The Holy Sepulchre, etc.

The church ground compromises around 25 hectares, and it takes around three to four hours to got through all of them. Comfortable shoes must be worn at all times as it is not easy to get through each one with its rocky nature and terrain. This inaccessible nature of rock church sites is also associated with Biblical traditions. In the Bible, it is indicated that one has to go through ups and downs and pass many challenges of life in order to inherit the kingdom of God. The difficult way of approaching to the church symbolizes the challenges of spiritual life and the church represents the Heavenly Jerusalem (the Kingdom of God). [Source: “Lalibela: A Museum of Living Rocks” by Mengistu Gobezie]

Every Ethiopian Orthodox Christian is encouraged to do a pilgrimage here at least once in his or her lifetime.

Cheryl Tiu, Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela, Ethiopia
This was taken in the beginning as I’m about to go through the path towards the rock-hewn churches, which date back to the end of the Axumite period, around 5th and 6th centuries AD. Each was carved entirely out of a single block of granite with the roof at the ground level. It’s important to be covered as a sign of respect.
Can you believe each church was carved entirely out of a single block of granite?! So beautiful!
Can you believe each church was carved entirely out of a single block of granite?! So beautiful!
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An Ethiopian Orthodox priest praying in one of the rock-hewn churches
Rock Hewn Church with the Star of David, Lalibela, Ethiopia
Inside the Bet Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World) church. It resembles a Greek temple but notice the  Star of David here on the ceiling, reflecting the country’s Jewish roots
In Ethiopian Orthodox, priests are allowed to get married but they remain as priests. The celibate ones are the ones who are allowed to go up in rank/ hierarchy, as bishops, etc. The healing cross is only present on Sundays, and we were lucky to have been blessed by several of them.
In Ethiopian Orthodox, priests are allowed to get married but they remain as priests. The celibate ones are the ones who are allowed to go up in rank/ hierarchy, as bishops, etc. The healing cross is only present on Sundays, and we were lucky to have been blessed by several of them
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Amor Maclang, Pepe Diokno and myself outside the Bete Debre Sinai (House of Mount Sinai) and Bete Golgotha (House of Golgotha) churches
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The rock-hewn church of Bete Giorgis (House of St. George) is what you will see in every postcard of Lalibela. It’s the prettiest, which unlike any other church in the world, has a cruciform shape from top to bottom, and without free-standing pillars. It’s dedicated to Ethiopia’s most popular martyr, Saint George.
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This is what it looks like when you go closer to it..
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And finally the full view of it. It’s quite a trek to go down.. and up through trenches, gateways and tunnels. But very rewarding afterwards. It is also the last church
Pepe Diokno, Cheryl Tiu  having traditional coffee by Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela Ethiopia
After going through all 11 churches, whew, we needed a coffee break! Pepe Diokno and I enjoying Ethiopian coffee the traditional way right by the churches, still within the UNESCO protected grounds :)

Apart from the rock-hewn churches, we also discovered an artisan shop, The House of Lalibela Artisans, a cooperative where they meticulously hand-make clothing, scarves, dresses, paintings, baskets. etc. It is supported by UNESCO, the Japanese Funds-in-Trust and the Government of Ethiopia, and proceeds are given back to the community— so we urge you to do your shopping here! The items are really beautiful and the family behind it is so kind, and are now are friends.

The House of the Lalibela Artisans, UNESCO Protected, Lalibela, Ethiopia
We changed upon The House of the Lalibela Artisans, which is supported by UNESCO, the Japanese Funds-in-Trust and the Government of Ethiopia. Proceeds from sales of their clothing, scarves, paintings, baskets, etc. all go to the community. I urge you to support!
Cheryl Tiu threading at The House of the Lalibela Artisans
They are artisans and make and weave everything meticulously by hand. They let me try it, and oh boy, it was tough! I really appreciate all hand-woven items.. so difficult to do!
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These are some of the beautiful weavings.. from scarves to traditional Ethiopian dresses. I urge you to do your shopping here!
The talented and hard-working family behind the The House of Lalibela Artisans: Niguse Terefe and his nephews Asefa and Belay work here daily. Look for them and tell them you are our friends :) Amor and I couldn't help but buy some of their beautiful scarves.. she got a pashmina and I got a small scarf in the colors of the Ethiopian flag!
The talented and hard-working family behind the The House of Lalibela Artisans: Niguse Terefe and his nephews Asefa and Belay work here daily. Look for them and tell them you are our friends :) Amor and I couldn’t help but buy some of their beautiful scarves.. she got a pashmina and I got a small scarf in the colors of the Ethiopian flag!
Asefa, The House of the Lalibela Artisans, Ethiopia
Asefa is also a really talented painter and sells some of his works (painted on leather so they don’t wear or tear) at the shop. So cute noh? I bought all these for my mom!

The day before we flew out, we also went to visit a local market. We like seeing how the locals live, and here, just like in the market in Axum, they sell fresh produce and fruits. We sat at a local restaurant and got to try ambasha, which is a Northern Ethiopian bread that’s like a larger, fluffy Indian naan. So good! And I also got to learn how to make my beloved injera! What touched me most during my trip to Lalibela though were the people– they were some of the kindest and friendliest I had ever met. The children at the market, especially Samegh, Zenash and Mazash, who hugged me so tight the moment they met me until I left..  I will forever remember. Thank you for touching my heart. <3

Lalibela Market, Ethiopia
Grains, spices and herbs at the Lalibela market. We came earlier than their opening hour of 8AM so a lot of the stalls were not yet set up
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Ambasha! A popular bread in northern Ethiopia is a like a gorgeous, fluffy naan.. so good! Breaking bread with the locals was one of the most beautiful things we did this trip:)

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In love with these kids! Their parents are either vendors or restaurant owners by the Lalibela market, and Sameghe in particular was so welcoming to invite me to her home for coffee. They wanted to see pictures of my family on their phone, and were amused at my youngest brother who’s like the biggest of us all. Haha
Chery Tiu and Semegh in Lalibela, Ethiopia
The heart of Ethiopia is really its people. I fell in love with this 10-year-old little girl in a village in Lalibela who from the moment I met her, hugged on to me so tight and invited me to her home for coffee, and to meet her mother and brother. I love you Samegh, you are so beautiful. Thank you for touching my heart. <3

Are you in love or what? Now how to get here.. Ethiopian Airlines flies directly from Manila to the capital city of Addis Ababa starting July 9, 2015. (Click HERE for more about it and why Ethiopia is so hot right now!) Prior to Lalibela, we traveled to the sacred city of Axum, which is the supposed site of the Ark of the Covenant. (Read about it HERE). Stay tuned for my post on what to do in Addis Ababa!