80 Senses: #62 - The Monks of Lalibela

80 Senses: #62 - The Monks of Lalibela

Rock hewn churches and yellow robed monks. We may be becoming an ever more secular bunch, but whatever your religious (dis)inclinations there's no denying that many of the world's most beautiful and awe-inspiring buildings and art treasures have been created in the name of God or Gods. Leaving aside the millions of deaths also directly attributable to religion for a minute, we want to celebrate one of the absolute highlights of a country more defined than most by its religious history.


Keepers of the lost Ark

We're talking about Ethiopia, one of the first (some say the first) officially Christian country on Earth, and the last resting place - allegedly - of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is kept strictly under wraps, but Lalibela, in the north of the country, is very much open for business and an absolute must on any trip to this fascinating country. The churches here are the main attraction - hewn as they are into the rock, rather than constructed above surface. It's quite a feat of engineering, and the largest, Bete Medhane Alem, is the largest monolithic church in the world.


Walking, praying photo ops

Wandering around these buildings, excavated rather than constructed just like the buildings in Petra, is made all the more special by the fact that they are still very much functioning religious sites, visited by pilgrims and lovingly maintained by dashing yellow robed monks of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The monks are a walking, praying photo opportunity, and normally to be found sitting photogenically reading from the bible. It's a sight and a place that will stay long in the memory.