Bet Medhane Alem, rock-cut church in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

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Bet Medhane Alem

Top choice in Lalibela

Resembling a massive Greek temple more than a traditional Ethiopian church, Bet Medhane Alem is impressive for its size and majesty. Said to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world, it measures 33.5m by 23.5m and is more than 11.5m high. Some scholars have suggested it may have been a copy in rock of the original St Mary of Zion church in Aksum.

The building is surrounded by 34 large, rectangular columns (many are replicas of the originals). The three jointed at each corner are thought to represent the Holy Trinity. The interior consists of a barrel-vaulted nave and four aisles with 38 columns supporting the gabled roof. The three empty graves in one corner are said to have been prepared symbolically for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. On Sundays worshipers come hoping to be blessed or healed by the famous 7kg gold Lalibela Cross.

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Nearby Lalibela attractions

1. Bet Maryam

0.03 MILES

Connected to Bet Medhane Alem by a tunnel is a large courtyard containing three churches. The first, Bet Maryam, is small, yet designed and decorated to…

2. Bet Meskel

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Carved into the courtyard’s northern wall at Bet Maryam is the tiny semi-chapel of Bet Meskel. Four pillars divide the gallery into two aisles spanned by…

3. Bet Danaghel

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To the south of the Bet Maryam courtyard is the pleasingly primitive and grotto-like chapel of Bet Danaghel (House of the Virgins), said to have been…

4. Bet Golgotha & Bet Mikael

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A trench at the southern end of the Bet Maryam courtyard connects it to the twin churches of Bet Golgotha and Bet Mikael (also known as Bet Debre Sina)…

5. Museum

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Downstairs at the ticket office, the uninspired museum displays the usual church items. It's an obligatory stop, but any time spent here is merely…

6. Tomb of Adam

0.06 MILES

The symbolic Tomb of Adam is a giant, hollowed-out block of stone next to Bet Uraiel.

7. Bet Uraiel

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In the trench fronting the western facade of Bet Golgotha, past the symbolic Tomb of Adam (a giant, hollowed-out block of stone), Bet Uraiel opened as a…

8. Bet Amanuel

0.18 MILES

Free-standing and monolithic, Bet Amanuel is Lalibela’s most finely carved church. Some have suggested it was the royal family’s private chapel. It…