The Church of Saint George, also known as Bete Giyorgis, is one of 11 rock-carved monolithic churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Bete Giyorgis is the most famous of 11 churches. It was designed and carved into the bedrock to mimic Jerusalem. Travelers can explore this unique holy site through a series of winding tunnels and elaborate passageways dozens of feet below the surface level.
Legend tells us that when Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela was born in 1162 A.D., he was surrounded by a swarm of bees soon after his birth. His mother believed this was a sign that he would come to rule Ethiopia one day. His name means, “the bees recognize his sovereignty.”
After he became king, Lalibela ordered the construction of the 11 monolithic stone churches–all of which are preserved today. His goal was to create a new Ethiopian Jerusalem where biblical scenes, such as the stable, were carved out of the rock. The Bete Giyorgis is one piece of stone cut from out of the ground and shaped from the inside out.
The church is cut 40 ft. down with its roof forming the shape of a Greek cross. Inside, light filters in from the windows and illuminates the ceiling’s large crosses. There are also two 800-year-old olive wood boxes believed to be carved by King Lalibela that hold the church’s treasures. Some of the cavities in the walls surrounding the church contain mummified corpses. When visitors use the underground tunnels to travel from one church to another, they hear the distant chanting of monks.
The town of Lalibela is virtually isolated from the modern world. This rural town has almost no cars, gas stations or paved streets. Today, the site of the carved churches is considered one of the chief pilgrimages for Ethiopian Christians. The simplicity of life combined with the religious architecture gives the city of Lalibela a “distinctively timeless, almost biblical atmosphere.”
Bete Giyorgis is a real place of worship and prayer services are conducted daily. The cost to tour the stone churches cost $50 per person, with guided tours available at an extra charge. For guides and tour information on this holy site, visit www.ashetenecotrekking.com.