Sunday, June 19, 2011

St. Lalibela

Joyous feast! On this the 12th of Sené on the Ethiopian calendar we commemorate the righteous Emperor Lalibela. St. Lalibela is remembered as the greatest of the emperors of the Zagwé dynasty that temporarily supplanted the Solomonids in the 1100s and 1200s.

Born in Lasta in what today is northeastern Ethiopia the future emperor was named Lalibela ('the bees acknowledge his supremacy') because at his birth a swarm of bees surrounded him, which at the time was taken as a sign that the child would one day be emperor.

The seeming divine favor naturally made St. Lalibela unpopular with the reigning emperor, and as a young man the Saint retreated from the world to live as a hermit. He later went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land before returning to Ethiopia, where he was acclaimed as emperor even by the reigning Emperor Harbay and enthroned with the name Gebre Mesqel ('servant of the Cross').

During St. Lalibela's reign he established the town of Roha (now called Lalibela after him) as his capital and there carved ten churches out of the ground in accordance with a vision he was given that commanded him to establish Roha as a 'new Jerusalem' in Ethiopia. In addition to having the world-renowned churches in Roha built St. Lalibela also gave generously to the poor.

When the construction of Roha's churches was complete St. Lalibela abdicated in favor of his nephew and reposed in peace. To this day his hand cross is treasured in his former capital and the churches he built continue to amaze pilgrims, who come to the city from throughout Ethiopia. More on his life can be found here and in the Synaxarium of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. May St. Lalibela's blessing and prayers be with us all!

Pictured is St. George's Church, one of the monolithic rock-hewn churches built in Roha during St. Lalibela's reign.

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