Ethiopia's Mysterious Shrines May Hold An Ancient Treasure
According to the New Testament of the Bible, an angel appeared to Phillip the Evangelist and told him to “go south to the desert road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Along the way, he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch who was in charge of the treasury of Queen Candace. This is arguably the first encounter with Christianity by what is now the only region in Africa to survive the expansion of Islam as a Christian state.
Isolated from the rest of the Christian world, Ethiopia boasts one of the religion’s holiest pilgrimage sights: Lalibela. Best known for its mysterious subterranean, rock-hewn churches, the area is believed to be a symbolic representation of ancient Jerusalem. Once the capital of the Zagwe Dynasty, more than 200 rock churches were built in the 12th and 13th centuries during the reign of King Lalibela.
No one knows the origins or the purpose of each of the churches, some of which are hidden inside enormous caves. Each buildings is unique in size, shape and execution and all are precisely and painstakingly carved out of solid bedrock. The eleven larger churches reach below ground, some more than 30 feet high, and are ringed by courtyards and trenches that connect the buildings in a tangled maze of tunnels. One is even said to have been built by angels in a single day; another supposedly came to the Zagwe king in a dream. Set high in the Lasta Mountains, Lalibela is one of the most important religious and historic sites in all of Africa, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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