REHABILITATION OF THE ZAGUË KINGS AND THE BUILDING OF THE DÄBRÄ SINA –
The Zaguë capital, Lalibäla, with its twelve rock-cut and monolithic sites
designated as churches, has received more attention in travel and scholarly
literature than any other medieval place in
A third important component is the small, totally rock-cut structure
described almost universally in the literature as the Sellassie Chapel or
“Crypt”, which is accessed through a simple doorway at the east end of
Golgotha’s south aisle (Fig.
A:H). It is, in fact, no more a crypt
than any other rock-cut monument in Lalibäla because it is on the same
underground level as the Däbrä Sina and
THEORETICAL INTERPRETATIONS AND HISTORICAL PRECEDENTS
The unique nature of the rock-cut monuments in Lalibäla, together with their
sanctity and, especially in the case of the Sellassie Chapel, its secrecy, has
led some scholars to go well beyond the evidence in their attempts to interpret
the “meaning” of the site as a whole. Two particularly imaginative
examples come to mind, the first being the widely distributed work of Irmgard
Bidder. In Lalibela, The Monolithic Churches of
Another comprehensive hypothesis was proposed by the much regretted Jacqueline Pirenne in her paper “La signification symbolique des églises de Lalibéla, à partir des inscriptions découvertes en 1980-1983”, delivered at the Eighth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies in 1984. Inspired by the discovery and publication by Gigar Tesfaye of four inscriptions engraved on fragments of wood and bearing the theme of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and of the invocations inscribed on ten mänäbert tabot of which nine were attributed to King Lalibäla, she concluded that the excavated site, for which she gave credit to the king alone, represented a mystical commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John. Much of her argument derived from the association of each tabot with a specific church (identified by similarities in the decorative elements common to both the tabot and church), and from her absolute conviction that the attributions to King Lalibäla were original and correct. However, Stuart Munro-Hay has recently expressed serious doubts about the matter, suggesting that the mänäbert tabot may be no more than “pious forgeries dating from a subsequent phase”, and pointing out that even if they are the Zaguë monarch’s work, “they do no more than indicate that King Lalibela took an interest in the churches – they are far from proof that he had all, or any of them, constructed.”
that King Lalibäla might not have been responsible for all, or indeed any, of
the rock-cut and monolithic structures at this eponymous place, has been
growing steadily over the years. It is
not necessary to return to Bidder’s theories to find precedents for rock-cut
religious architecture in the highlands of
THE EXCAVATION OF LALIBÄLA’S ROCK-CUT CHURCHES
Developing a chronology for
AXUMITE ARCHITECTURAL TRADITIONS
If there is any correlation between the presence of Axumite elements in Ethiopian rock-cut architecture and the relative antiquity of any given site, then Betä Maryam (Figs. B/E:O), Abba Libanos, and Betä Emmanuel, and perhaps in its enlarged formula, Medhane Alem, represent the most conventional type among the churches of Lalibäla. Excluding Betä Merqorios, Betä Gabriel and Betä Lehem, which are not oriented and which may as a consequence never have been conceived as churches, the least “Axumite” of the ecclesiastical structures in Lalibäla are those of the Däbrä-Sina - Golgotha – Sellassie complex, and Betä Giyorgis. They in fact appear to disregard Axumite traditions almost entirely, notwithstanding the non-functional transversals in the entrance door and lower range of windows at Betä Giyorgis (Fig. 1). The absence of long-established forms suggests that these monuments were carved at a time when those traditions were no longer considered essential in church construction; that is, at a date following the creation of Betä Maryam and others of its type. In terms of the ground plan alone, that so-called Axumite type consisted of a central square divided into three aisles by two sets of two pillars contained in a rectangular frame (Fig. B:O). At each end of the central square this frame incorporated a tripartite division of space corresponding to the layout of the three aisles. At the east end, the sanctuary stood as a continuation of the central aisle, and was flanked to the north and south by rooms, accessed from the sanctuary and/or the side aisles, which served as sacristies. At the west end, a central entrance vestibule was situated between two chambers, with access to the northern chamber from the vestibule and to the southern from the south aisle. In addition to the west entrance, there were northern and southern ones which opened into the westernmost bay of the central square. This is precisely the formula found at Betä Emmanuel and Betä Libanos, and very close to that of Betä Maryam which is otherwise distinguished by two additional pillars, one in front of the sanctuary and the other opposite in the entrance vestibule.
The only means of entering the Däbrä Sina –
Narrow doorways in the NE and NW section of Däbrä Sina’s northern wall, leading
out of the first and fourth bays, serve as the only entrances to what is known
as the Church of Golgotha (Figs. A/C/D:B & C, 2).
Compared to other churches in Lalibäla, and noticeably to Däbrä Sina, this is a
poor structure, badly wrought, yet considered to be among the holiest places on
the site because it houses the so-called “Tomb of Christ” and, supposedly, the
remains of King Lalibäla himself (Figs. A/C/D: F,G).
Its 10.7m E-W length is separated into two aisles by three cruciform piers. The
total width measures approximately 6m. The north aisle is wider than its
southern counterpart, suggesting that the original intention may have been to
create a tri-partite structure with a nave broader than each of two flanking
aisles. Certainly, compared to the southern wall, the northern wall is rough
and unfinished, leaving the impression that it was hastily prepared. An
entablature in low relief carries around the south, east and west walls at the
point where, on the pilasters, arches spring from bracket capitals to
corresponding brackets on the three central piers (Fig. D). Arches also link the piers to each other on the E-W axis of
the structure. Unlike those in Däbrä Sina, the capitals are devoid of any
chiseled decoration. Painted bands, in greenish-blue and red, and probably
dating from the 19th-century, run along the south wall at the level
of brackets and capitals. A greenish-blue rectangle surrounded by a triple
frame of bands in the order of yellow, red and yellow, covers the north face of
the pilaster capital standing to the east of the door connecting
At the opposite end of the interior, in the NE corner, the first bay of the north aisle rises three steps above the floor of the church. A blind archway in the east wall of this bay may have been intended to contain a monumental standing figure in relief, but nothing can be discerned from available photographs. A final transversal arch rises above it from within the wall creating a blind lunette below.
A recess in the north wall, protected by an iron grate, is designated the “Tomb of Christ”. Within, a recumbent figure in low relief lies at floor level, facing east (Figs. A/C/D:G, 3, 4). The body tapers from broad shoulders to his feet, which are integrated into the east wall of the arcosolium. His hands are crossed over his chest and he wears a short, thigh-length tunic. The face is without features and was either unfinished or rendered purposely thus. An angel stands in relief at his feet; if there was once one also at his head, as postulated by Barriviera, it was not visible to this writer.
The second bay of the north aisle contains the “Tomb of Lalibäla”, surmounted by a large mänbärä tabot draped in cloth. Today, it, together with the raised first bay, is normally curtained off.
In the spaces between the pilasters along the north and south walls of
THE JESUS CELL
Two doorways open from the SE corner or first bay of the south aisle, one leading through the south wall into a small chamber measuring 2 x 1.3m known as the Jesus cell (Fig. A:D) and the other through the east wall to the Sellassie Chapel. The Jesus cell is linked to the east end of the north aisle of Däbrä Sina by a small aperture in its SW corner. A modest window with a pointed arch looks out from high in the wall of the SE corner over the deep rock-cut passage which delimits the east end of Däbrä Sina. An interior frieze is said to be decorated with leaves similar to those which extend like swans’ necks out of the upper frame of the broken arch on the exterior wall (Figs. A:J, 7). According to Barriviera, this cell formerly contained a tabot.
THE SELLASSIE CHAPEL
The Sellassie chapel is a rough trapezoid measuring 6.5m wide at the east
end and 4.6m at the west. It is 6.8m deep on the north side and 6m on the
south. The south side was made shorter to avoid cutting into the pre-existing
Jesus cell (Fig.
A). A single, 60cm-square, 5.4m-high pillar rises on the central axis about
a third of the way into the room. It has no capital, but brackets support wide
ribs which cross transversely and longitudinally above it. A 40cm-high step, or
plinth, leads eastwards out of the base of the pillar for a distance of 1.5m,
whereupon it intersects with, and continues a step higher than, three
well-delineated steps leading up to a platform which extends on a slight convex
curve from one side of the room to the other. In the centre of the platform and
directly in line with the column at a depth of 50cm from the top step is a
monolithic altar, flanked by two others equi-distant from the north and south walls
(Figs. A, C, 8).
The central monolith is 1.5m high, while those on either side stand at 1.35m.
Each is roughly 70 to 90cm square. The vertical surfaces are divided
horizontally with crosses incised at the upper level on each of the four faces.
Anthropomorphic symbols of the four beasts of the Apocalypse, with arms raised
in prayer, fill the lower faces of the central monolith: the man in the west,
the eagle in the east, the bull in the south and the lion in the north.
Corresponding surfaces in the flanking monoliths are empty. In the east wall
behind the central monolith is a 2.7m high niche surmounted by an arch.
The niche, 1.4m wide, is stepped on three levels at the bottom, increasingly recessed
to a depth of 1.1m before the springing of the arch. In a blind arch on
the north side of this central niche, directly behind its corresponding
monolithic altar, a larger-than-life anthropomorphic figure with the head of an
ox stands in relief (Figs. 9, 10).
The hands are held clasped above the waist, while the head is encircled with a
nimbus containing a cross in the top centre. Monte della
Corte’s description of this head as that of an ox, although true, has been much
derided by subsequent commentators. The
decoration on the drapery of this figure seems somewhat more elaborate than on
the well-preserved figures along the south wall of
At the bottom of the steps on the north wall is the opening to an empty tomb
chamber. The west end of the south wall is pierced by a single small window
which, from the outside, appears next to, and is framed with decoration very
similar to, that of the window opening into the Jesus cell (Figs. A:I, 7).
The swan-necked, floral pattern which delineates the frame of these windows
with pointed arches is again reproduced in all twelve of the upper range of
windows in the
RELATIVE CHRONOLOGY OF THE COMPLEX
The Däbrä Sina-Golgotha-Sellassie complex is certainly unique among the
Lalibäla churches in its structure and composition, devoid as it is of nearly
every traditional characteristic of Axumite-style architecture. The absence of
corner chambers in Däbrä Sina is a new departure in church construction, with
eight piers instead of four (Fig.
A), thus creating an open interior space considerably larger than that of
an Axumite precursor constructed around a square. There is no evidence that
there was any intention to excavate the rest of the complex when the
The final excavation, and perhaps the last of any of the rock-cut monuments
in Lalibäla, was the Sellassie Chapel. It must have followed the completion of
Golgotha because it can only be entered through the doorway at the east end of
Golgotha’s south aisle; and it must have followed the excavation of the Jesus
cell as its SW corner is excavated on an angle in order not to cut into and
obliterate the cell’s east wall. Thus, there is a very clear progression in the
construction of the complex. As Däbrä Sina is the oldest of the group and
already devoid of Axumite features, it is not surprising that such features are
also totally absent from the rest. There are no transversals (square “monkey
heads”), typical of Axumite architecture, to be found in any of the doors and
windows. The windows from the exterior are barely framed, if at all, and the
relief of those which are decorated is shallow (Fig. E). There is, furthermore, no consistency between the
shapes of the windows in Däbrä Sina and those in
THE AXUMITE “WINDOW”
Not to be overlooked when considering the windows of the complex is the
Axumite doorway opening onto the top of the deep trench delineating the west
exterior wall of the Church of Golgotha (Figs. B/E/F:Q, 11). This
doorway, described in the literature as a “balcone”
and understood to be a window, stands at the western extremity of a corridor
which is directly in line with the E-W axis of the Church of Betä Maryam, and which
opens through a double portal into the courtyard before the west façade of that
church (Figs. B/C/E/F:M).
The corridor is now open to the elements, but it is very likely that it was
once a rock-cut passage and that the roof collapsed. It is also probable that
this corridor served as the principal access to Betä Maryam before the deep
trench surrounding the Däbrä Sina-Golgotha-Sellassie complex was cut.
That would have been even before the carving out of the so-called “Tomb of
Adam” onto which the Axumite doorway looks (Figs. A/B/E/F:K, 11). It is,
in fact, almost certain that this trench was once far shallower and that
formerly it was the principal link between the river now known as the
THE CHRONOLOGICAL CONTEXT FOR THE
If the concept and aspects of the architectural and decorative details of
the Däbrä Sina-Golgotha-Sellassie complex are unique to Lalibäla, they are not
THE MONOLITHIC ALTAR
The presence of monolithic altars is of prime importance to the argument for the particularly late construction of the Sellassie Chapel. Their appearance at Maryam Wuqro and May Kado Giyorgis in the context of the raised sanctuary has already been mentioned, but there are many more in Tigray and the more one looks the more one finds. Of fourteen examples cited here, it is certain that ten churches have a monolithic altar or mänbärä tabot in the central part of the sanctuary. If there is a second altar, and there often is, it is usually to be found in the NE corner of the church, confirming Lepage’s assessment of the ceremonial importance and sanctity of this part of the monument. Abba Yohanni has a monolithic altar at the east end of each of its three aisles (Fig. 13). Altars of this type in the SE corner of Iyyesus Wanza and Mikael Barka suggest that each may also have a total of three. Iyyesus Wanza contains interior features remarkably close to those at Däbrä Seyon, which also contains a monolithic altar and is dated to the period 1382-1411. In chronological terms, churches with only one monolithic altar, as at Maryam Dengelet, could represent the earliest of their type. These may have been followed by those with similar monoliths at the east end of the north or south aisles when those aisles terminate to the west of the sanctuary, as at Iyyesus Wanza and May Kado Giyorgis (Fig. 12). Those with monolithic altars on the same plane to the north and/or south of the central sanctuary, as at Enda Maryam Wuqro, Mikael Barka and Tselal Moo, may either be later extensions to a church which began with a single monolith in a central sanctuary “apse”, or were carved into the rock at a time when the popularity of such altars coincided with the enlargement of the sanctuary area to the full width of the church, as was probably the case for Abba Yohanni. At Abräha Atsbäha, an altar constructed of stone and mortar in the NE corner of such an expanded sanctuary, may represent a later attempt to keep up with the new custom. Tall monoliths, measuring up to 2.7m in height and fashioned to serve as the mänbärä tabot in the central sanctuary area of some churches may well belong to the latest period of development, and in some cases have been introduced as an eastward extension to the sanctuary of a previously existing rock-cut church (Fig. 14).
who have attributed dates to churches with a monolithic altar or mänbärä
tabot place them between the late thirteenth century (starting with the
reign of Yekuno Amlak, 1270-1285) and the early fifteenth century;
that is, to the post-Zaguë period. Significantly, the one church known to have
three such monoliths is Abba Yohanni, a late structure
believed to bear the name of the fourteenth-century Abba Yohanni whose Vita
was composed in the fifteenth century by Menas IV, bishop of
THE RELIEF FIGURES
An anomaly in any style and at any time is the presence in the wall niches
of the Church of Golgotha and the Sellassie Chapel of larger than life-sized
relief sculptures representing holy figures (Figs. A/C/D:1-6, 5,
and of the recumbent figure in the arcosolium in the NE corner of Golgotha said
to represent the Dead Christ (Figs. A/C/D:G, 3, 4). All those who
have studied them comment that they are unique not only in Lalibäla, but in Ethiopia
as a whole. While the identity of the standing figures remains uncertain, there
can be no doubt that they represent saints since all but one has a nimbus. That
exception is the most frequently reproduced because not only is the relief in
nearly perfect condition, standing below the small window opening into the
Church of Däbrä Sina in the centre of the south wall of Golgotha, but the
figure is depicted wearing a turban (Fig.
inscription on the arch above identifies him as St. Cyriacus, but since, as was
mentioned before, the inscriptions do seem to have been added later, this
information may probably be disregarded. Furthermore, the presence of a turban
rather than a nimbus suggests that the figure is not meant to represent a
saint, but instead a high ecclesiastical official. It is also notable that this
relief is small in comparison to the others, perhaps to indicate a figure of
lesser stature than a saint. Such differences do detract from the theories that
these reliefs represent the Nine Saints or the Twelve Apostles.
Elsewhere, from a chronological viewpoint, the introduction of oriental dress
goes hand in hand with the rise of the Ottoman Turks and the spread of their
empire in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The
All scholars note that the reliefs are unusual. Sergew Hable Sellassie points out that “the usage of statues in the church is not at all a practice of the Ethiopian church nor of the Orient in general. It is reminiscent of the western practice.” Similarly, Jules Leroy finds the presence of these “sculptures animés” to be “un fait très rare et contraire à la pratique générale des chrétientés orientales”, and comments with reference to the recumbent figure that in a western context the representation of the Entombment in churches does not become widespread until the fifteenth century. Lepage compares their style to examples in “divers manuscrits bien datés” of c. 1400. The general consensus points to a fifteenth century date for these reliefs. A postquam date is provided by Alvares who reported seeing two of them in 1521.
SOLOMONIC REHABILITATION OF THE ZAGUË DYNASTY
Despite the presence of the relief sculptures, the Church of Golgotha is hardly a burial place fit for a thirteenth-century Zaguë king, not comparable in quality with such other churches in Lalibäla, as for example Betä Maryam, or even Däbrä Sina. Had King Lalibäla chosen his own burial place, one might have thought that he would have provided something better for himself. But if the evidence here is correctly interpreted, there is little possibility that the Church of Golgotha even existed at the time of the king’s death, and obviously even less that he was buried next to the symbolic tomb of Christ when that tomb with its recumbent effigy may not have been fashioned from the rock for up to two centuries after his death. Either his remains have been translated from elsewhere, or Lalibäla may not be buried in what for at least the past five hundred years has been referred to as Lalibäla’s tomb. Furthermore, it has been recently argued that it was only from the fourteenth century that the churches at Lalibäla began to be ascribed to the king in Ethiopian sources, and not until the fifteenth century that “pilgrimage to the tomb of Lalibela developed”. The fifteenth century is also the time when images of King Lalibäla first appear in art.
This chronology suggests that for reasons still unclear, the kings of the Zaguë dynasty, long branded by scholars as usurpers, were rehabilitated in the fifteenth century. This is the century when, as far as can be determined, the names of the Zaguë kings Lalibäla, Neakkuto Leab, Yitbarek and Harbay (i.e. Gebre Maryam) were first included in the Ethiopian version of the Synaxarium, or Book of Saints. Their inclusion is a clear indication that they and their dynasty were then acceptable to the Orthodox Church. This is also the century when the lives of Lalibäla and Neakkuto Leab entered the literature as hagiographical texts, and the century when the name Lalibäla is first used to designate the site of the rock-cut and monolithic churches which the Zaguës had called Adefa or Roha. The evidence for the incorporation of the kings of the Zaguë dynasty, and especially of King Lalibäla, into the mainstream of Ethiopian religious culture in the fifteenth century is overwhelming. The process may have begun in the previous century when, for example, the authors of the Kebra Nägäst gave Solomonic legitimacy to the Zaguë dynasty by tracing their descent to the handmaiden of the Queen of Sheba who, like the Queen herself, was impregnated by King Solomon.
One may ask why this change which was so supportive of the Zaguë came about. There is no firm answer, but it could be suggested that it was related to the long-standing controversy over the celebration of the double Sabbath which had been so disruptive throughout the land during most of the fourteenth century, and even before, only to be resolved to the satisfaction of the followers of the monk Ewostatewos by King Zar’a Ya’qob at the Council of Däbrä Metmaq in 1445. The reasoning behind this association lies in the text inscribed on a mänbära tabot, now in the Church of Däbrä Sina, attributed to King Lalibäla and designated by Gigar Tesfaye as “Golgotha 1”. This perfectly preserved, lengthy inscription is consecrated to Sunday, “the sabbath of the Christians”. Such a statement of orthodoxy may possibly belong more to the Alexandrian position of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries than to a Zaguë king of the early thirteenth, unless of course, the observance of Saturday was already rooted in the Zaguë period. This mänbära tabot, together with four others from the Däbrä Sina-Golgotha-Sellassie complex, two from the Church of Mädhane Aläm and two from Betä Gabriel, are thought to have been produced in the early thirteenth century, but although they all bear the name of King Lalibäla, there is nothing to prevent their having been made at a later date.
One may suggest, therefore, that the kings of the
Zaguë Dynasty were rehabilitated by the Orthodox Church in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries possibly in an attempt to counter the Tigrean heresy of
Ewostathianism which at that very time was penetrating Lasta from the north.
The Zaguë capital at Roha had by then been abandoned as a centre of government,
but the Axumite-style monoliths and rock-cut churches remained and, like the
foundation of St. James of Compostella in
One need not insist upon this interpretation of
the motivation which lay behind the sanctification of King Lalibäla and the
creation of the Däbrä Sina-Golgotha-Sellassie complex, but it cannot be denied
that the name of the king was introduced to the Synaxarium at about this
time, and that the rock-cut complex incorporates architectural features and
liturgical elements which postdate those apparent in the other ecclesiastical
monuments on the site. The period witnessed a vogue in the production of mänäbert
tabot. These may include those made from wood and bearing invocations
ascribed to the king, those in the very same style carved as monoliths in the
Sellassie Chapel (Fig.
8) and, the largest of them all, the so-called “Tomb of Adam” (Fig. 11) and
the Church of Betä Giyorgis (Fig.
1) which, as David Buxton so aptly put it over forty years ago, “is nothing
more nor less than a glorified portable altar (manbar)”.
The characteristics, both decorative and architectural, which Betä Giyorgis
holds in common with the churches, chapels and cells of the Däbrä
Sina-Golgotha-Sellassie complex, make it quite clear that it is contemporary
with them. The “Tomb of Adam”, in turn, can be compared with the probably late
medieval Tigrayan phenomenon of the monolithic mänbärä tabot, while the
positioning of the cross on the upper level of the south face recalls those on
each of the monolithic altars in the Sellassie Chapel. In this case, however,
the shape of the cross suggests an even later date, further confirmed by the
fact that the lower half of this monolith extends below the floor level of the
The author is grateful to Professor Alessandro Bausi of the Istituto Universitario Orientale in Naples for his valuable reflections on the content of this paper; to Ato Kebede Amare, Commissioner of Tourism in the Tigray, and to Professor Stanislaus Chojnacki for helping with the identification of churches containing monolithic altars; to Dr. Nicoletta Barbarito of the Canadian Embassy in Rome and to Dr. Livia Varga for assistance in the translation of various texts; to Paul Henze for permission to reproduce his photographs as figs. 3 & 4; to Ken Jones at the University of Toronto at Scarborough for preparing the illustrations for publication; and to Gillian Long of the DEEDS Project, University of Toronto, for bibliographical research and editing.
C.F. Beckingham and G.W.B. Huntingford, eds., The
Prester John of the
The gadl or Vita of King Lalibäla speaks of an angel instructing
the king to build ten churches (J. Perruchon, trans., Vie de Lalibala Roi
d’Éthiopie, Publications de l’École des Lettres d’Alger, Bulletin de
Correspondance Africaine, Paris, 1892, pp. 121-27 (hereafter: Perruchon, Vie
de Lalibala); also quoted in Gabriel Simon, Voyage en Abyssinie et chez les Gallas-Raias. L’Éthiopie, ses mœurs, ses traditions, le
négouss Iohannès, les églises monolithes de Lalibéla, Paris, 1885, pp. 321-22). There
are several differences in these two accounts: only the Vie de Lalibala includes
the churches of Däbrä Sina, Betä Gabriel and Betä Libanos, while only Alvares
 Beckingham & Huntingford, Prester John, , vol. 1, p. 226.
 Monti della Corte, Lalibelà, p. 15.
Barriviera, chiese in roccia, pp. 5-6, 35-39, 96-100 and pl. 3, 6, 8 –
11bis, 57-8; Monti della Corte, Lalibelà, pp. 54-63 and pl. XVI. There
is a possibility that Miguel de Castanhoso entered the Sellassie Chapel in 1543
as he speaks at one point of “a high altar and other altars, all of the same
stone” (as quoted in Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, p. 196). The three monolithic
“altars” in the chapel (see below) are unique to the known monuments of
Lalibäla, with the apparent exception of the monolith in the maqdas of Betä
Merqorios (see below, n. 26). Gerhardt Rohlfs mentions
the Sellassie “tomb” in the following context: “Der König Lalibala liegt in der
Golgatha-Kirche begraben, wo auch ein anderer berühmter Heiliger Abessiniens,
Selasse, seine Grabstätte hat” (Land und Volk in Afrika. Berichte aus den
Beatrice Playne, St. George for
Georg Gerster’s classic fish-eye photograph was first published in 1968 (Kirchen
 Gerster, Churches in Rock, p. 100.
 As quoted in Jules Leroy, L’Éthiopie. Archéologie et culture, [Desclee de Brouwer], 1973 (hereafter : Leroy, L’Éthiopie), p.137.
 Bidder, Lalibela, p. 116.
 In Taddese Beyene, ed., Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, University of Addis Ababa, 1984, Addis Ababa, 1989, pp. 137-45 (hereafter: Pirenne, “Signification symbolique”).
 Gigar Tesfaye, with the collaboration of Jacqueline Pirenne, “ Inscriptions sur bois de trois églises de Lalibala”, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, 17 (1984), pp. 107-43 (hereafter: Gigar, “Inscriptions”).
 Her argument may also have been influenced by that propounded in Scholz, “Vier apokalyptischen Wesen” (above, n. 7).
Emeri van Donzel, “
Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in
 “L’église rupestre de Berakit”, Annales d’Éthiopie, 9 (1972), pp. 147-88 & pl. XXV-XXVII (hereafter : Lepage, “Berakit”), esp. pp. 167, 179; idem, “Une origine possible des églises d’Éthiopie”, Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, juillet-octobre 1997, Paris, 1998 (hereafter: Lepage, “Origine”), fasc. 3, pp. 199-211 (p. 210).
David Buxton, “The Christian Antiquities of Northern Ethiopia”, Archaeologia,
or Miscellaneous Tracts relating to Antiquity,
Charles Buckingham, “Notes on an unpublished manuscript of Francesco Alvares:
Verdadera Informaçam das Terras do Preste Joam das
 Paul Henze has reported the recent excavation of seven rock-cut churches: in some cases the work was undertaken by a single individual. Three discovered in 1997 were: Petros & Pawlos (Tsada Amba,Tigray), Chicheho Gabriel (Wollo-Gondar border), Etissa (Shoa). A group of four found in 1999 in the Saraya region north of Debre Berhan were dedicated to Mikael, Egziabeher Ab, Maryam and Sellassie.
 D.R. Buxton, “Ethiopian Medieval Architecture – The Present State of Studies”, Ethiopian Studies, papers read at the Second International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (Manchester University, July 1963), ed. C.F. Beckingham & Edward Ullendorff, Journal of Semitic Studies, 9 (1964), pp. 239-44 (hereafter: Buxton, “Ethiopian Medieval Architecture”), p. 243.
Sergew Hable Sellassie, Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History to 1270,
 See above, n. 2.
 Pirenne, “Signification symbolique”, pp. 140-41; Munro-Hay, Unknown Land, p. 191.
Betä Merqorios has a sanctuary containing a monolithic altar or, more likely in
view of its height, a mänbärä tabot (measurements taken by a priest in
2002 at the author’s request were: 2.5 x 1.35 x 1.35m), suggesting a
construction date of the late 14th or, quite probably, the 15th
century (see below, n. 63). This date, consistent with the reference to
the site in the 15th-century Vie de Lalibela as a church
“d’une construction différente” (Perruchon, Vie de Lalibela, p. 124),
does not preclude the prior existence of a rock-cut structure which might have
served a civil role. Monti
della Corte speaks of “un luogo di dimora e di rappresentanza” (Lalibelà,
p. 27). Munro-Hay (Unknown Land, p. 194) suggests that it
might have been part of the royal residence (see also: Roderick Grierson and
Stuart Munro-Hay, The Ark of the Covenant,
 Betä Giyorgis also has a stepped foundation, but it is not rendered in the Axumite fashion. In a further departure from Axumite forms, this church has no interior transversals marking the corners of doors and windows.
Mario Di Salvo, with texts by Stanislaw Chojnacki &
Osvaldo Raineri, Churches of
 With the exception that there is no NW chamber at Betä Libanos.
 Barriviera, chiese in roccia, p. 31.
 Lepage, “installations liturgiques”, p. 91 & fig. 8.
 Bianchi Barriviera reports that this eastern niche contains a poorly preserved, larger-than-life sized figure, identified by a later inscription as “Maryam” (Barriviera, chiese in roccia, p. 32), but the presence of any such figure is unlikely.
 Barriviera, chiese in roccia, p. 33.
 Raffray (Lalibéla, p. 7) writes that the head of the recumbent figure lies on a Greek cross, but recent photographs provide little evidence to confirm this point.
Alvares’ description suggests that a tomb monument stood on the surface of the
rock floor which could be seen from any of the windows at the west end of the
church “at the right of the high altar” (Beckingham & Huntingford, Prester
John, vol. 1, p. 207). What was meant by the “high altar” is unclear
in terms of the actual arrangement, wherein the tomb monument stands in the
second bay of the north aisle. There is no altar on the raised area represented
by the confines of the first bay, although there may once have been one.
Today, the king’s remains are said to lie in a vault under the floor, probably
the spot identified by Alvares as “the entrance to the lower chamber”: “In the
centre of the body of the church is the mark of a door like a trap door; it is
covered up with a large stone, like an altar stone, fitting very closely. They
say that this is the entrance to the lower chamber, and that no one goes in,
nor does it look as if the stone or door could be lifted. This stone has a hole
in the centre which pierces it through; its size is three spans. All the
pilgrims [, who come here in infinite numbers for devotion,] put their hands
into this stone (where there is hardly room for them), and they say that many
miracles are done” (ibid., pp. 207 & 221). Barriviera describes the tomb
monument as a “tabot”, below which “close to the northern wall is a rectangular
opening measuring 100 x 180cm. dug into the floor and closed on top by a wooden
cover”. He was told by the monks that this opening led to the tomb of Lalibäla,
to which he was not able to gain access because it would have involved
obtaining a special authorization from the head of the
 That this space is surrounded by curtains increases its sanctity, but unlike the sanctuary of an Ethiopian church, non-priests have occasionally obtained access to it. Golgotha would seem, therefore, not to have a sanctuary per se, although a tabot is kept with the “tomb of Lalibäla” in the north aisle and also with another, commemorating Kidana Mehret (the Pact of Mercy), which stands opposite it in the second bay of the south aisle.
The smallest of these reliefs, its height limited by the existence of a little
window above it piercing the wall between
The inscribed identifications documented by Barriviera are as follows, reading
clockwise starting with the figure in the niche in the east wall of the north
aisle: 1) Maryam, 2) Yohannes, 3) Qirqos, 4) Giyorgis, 5) Gabra Kristos, 6)
Estifanos, and 7) Mikael (Barriviera, chiese in roccia, p. 32).
There is, however, no figure evident in the deep niche designated by Barriviera
as no. 7. That the two reliefs seen by Alvares were described as SS Peter and
John (Beckingham & Huntingford, Prester John, vol. 1, p. 221),
suggest the inscriptions are in fact quite recent as Peter is absent from
Barriviera’s list. The four seen by
Barriviera, chiese in roccia, p. 33 n. 1. Two
additional figures would have amounted to a total of nine, which, Barriviera
thought, could have represented the well-known Nine Saints to whom are
attributed the spreading of the faith in Ethiopia in the fifth century.
Munro-Hay finds this “an unlikely theme here”, adding that “if there were nine
here, they, with three others in the Sellassie chapel, would represent the
twelve apostles” (Munro-Hay, Unknown Land, p. 213). There are at
present only places for two such figures in the Sellassie Chapel, not three,
although it has been postulated that a third figure may once have stood in the
centre of the chapel’s east wall. There is no sign now of there ever having
been a relief sculpture in this central niche. Because the chapel bears the
dedication Sellassie (“The Trinity”), those favouring the previous existence of
a third figure argue that the three taken together represent the Trinity rather
than three of the Twelve Apostles (Gerster, Churches in Rock, p. 102,
with reference to fig. 81; Ewald Hein & Brigitte
 Pirenne, “Signification symbolique”, p. 138.
 Barriviera, chiese in roccia, p. 34.
 Scholz, “Vier apokalyptischen Wesen”.
 Drawings published by both Monti della Corte (Lalibelà, p. 59) and Bianchi Barriviera (chiese in roccia, tav. 10) show a disc containing a relief cross sculpted just below this arch, but none was visible to this writer.
 Monti della Corte, Lalibelà, p. 60. A priest “reluctantly explained” to Bianchi Barriviera that the figure on the left had the head of an ass and that on the right the head of an ox. The sides are obviously transposed and there is absolutely no sign of the head of an ass in the south niche. Barriviera, who could not have seen what was there, objects to this interpretation (which encouraged Monti della Corte to associate it with a Nativity scene), and supposed instead that the figures had human heads which were destroyed (Barriviera, chiese in roccia, p. 37, n. 1). The occurrence of the standing anthropomorphic figure with the head of an ox is ancient in Christian iconography, as evidenced by the late 8th- 9th-century example occurring on the Soiscél Molaise (National Museum of Ireland, R.4006; see Michelle P. Brown, The Lindisfarne Gospels, Society, Spirituality & the Scribe, London: British Library, 2003, p. 210, fig. 79).
 The two windows are very similar in their appearance, although the somewhat more elaborate design of that of the Sellassie chapel suggests that it was inspired by, but carved later than, the Jesus cell window.
The purpose served by this chamber is unknown, although it may possibly have
served a function similar to that of the aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre in
 Barriviera, chiese in roccia, pl. 6, no. 3.
 This hypothesis is similar to that proposed by Lino Bianchi Barriviera, “Restauri alle chiese di Lalibelà”, Rassegna di Studi Etiopici, 22 (1968 for 1966), pp. 135-46. On p. 138, footnote 2, he writes: “Il ritrovamento, nel corso dei piu recenti lavori di restauro, di tombe scavate nel pavimento di questo corridoio archittonicamente importante, l'esistenza di una croce scolpita nella sua fronte interna est, e altre particolarita gia notate, ci confermano nell'idea che esso possa esser stato originariamente un ingresso, e piu precisamente quello principale, al quale si doveva accedere per una gradinata dalla trincea antistante, il cui piano di calpestio poteva essere a una quota circa corrispondente al ripiano superiore della "Tomba di Adamo"; e che questa e la chiesa di Golgota-Mikael Sellase siano state scavate e scolpite in un tempo successivo, con la conseguente asportazione della gradinata per l'abbassamento della trincea. Per le considerazioni sopraccenate e per alcune osservazioni relative alle finestre di quest'ultima chiesa, vedi RSE vol XVIII, 1962, pag. 21, nota 1; pag.42, nota 1; pag. 44. Questa nostra timida ipotesi e confortata dal fatto che anche l'ingresso sud al cortile di Maryam ha una struttura simile, e corrispondenza di quote relative. ”
Amir Harrak, “The Ancient name of
Ghada Jayyusi-Lehn, “
 Lepage, “Berakit”, p. 150.
 On his dating of Degum, see: Lepage, “Berakit”, p. 151; idem, “Découverte d’un art étonnant : les églises éthiopiennes du Xe au XVIe siècle”, Archéologia, 64 (1973), pp. 45-58 (hereafter : Lepage, “églises éthiopiennes”), (p. 53); idem, “Le premier art chrétien de l’Éthiopie: Les églises et leur architecture” in “Découverte de l’Éthiopie chrétienne”, Les Dossiers de l’Archéologie, 8 (1975), pp. 34-59 (hereafter : Lepage, “premier art”), (p. 56).
 Lepage, “Berakit”, p. 151 & n. 11.
 Lepage, “Berakit”, pp. 152, 155.
 Lepage, “installations liturgiques ”, pp. 99-101; Lepage, “églises éthiopiennes”, p. 58.
 Mordini gives the measurements of the room as 3.31 x 2.78m, with a height of 2.3m, adding that the monolithic altar stands 1.7m. high by 1m wide (Antonio Mordini, “La chiesa ipogea di Ucrò (Ambà Seneiti) nel Tigrai”, Annali dell’Africa Italiana, II (1939), pp. 519-26 (hereafter: Mordini, “Ucrò”), (p. 523). His fig. 4 on pl. 3, however, indicates the height and width to be similar, probably at 1 m. The monoliths at Enda Maryam Wuqro are so similar in appearance to those at May Kado as to suggest they may have been carved by the same workmen.
Lepage identifies this chamber as a “placard” or cupboard
which could have served as a “sacristie” (Lepage, “installations
liturgiques”, p. 99), while in
 The fourteen include Abba Yohanni (Tembien), Abräha Atsbäha, Bahera Maryam, Däbrä Seyon (Geralta), Maryam Dengelat (Amba Sanayt), Enda Maryam Wuqro (Amba Sanayt), Gabriel Wuqien (Tembien), Iyyesus Wanza (or Gedjet), Iyyesus Weleghesa (Tembien), Johannes Maqudi, May Kado Giyorgis, Mikael Ambo, Mikael Barka, and Tselal Moo. It has not as yet been possible to confirm whether there is a monolithic altar in the central sanctuary of Abräha Atsbäha, Gabriel Wuqien (Tembien), or of Iyyesus Wanza.
 Churches containing two monolithic altars, one in the NE corner and one in the centre of the sanctuary, include Bahera Maryam, Enda Maryam Wuqro, Iyyesus Weleghesa (Tembien), May Kado Giyorgis and Tselal Moo. At Abräha Atsbäha, rather than being a monolith, its equivalent in the NE corner is constructed of stone. Since there is a monolithic altar in the SE corner of Mikael Barka, it is likely that there is another in the NE corner, but its presence has not yet been documented.
 Lepage, “installations liturgiques”, pp. 98-101.
 Gerster, Churches in Rock, p. 81. In addition to having monolithic altars, the common feature is the superimposed rows of small, blind arcades, which in Däbrä Seyon contain the painted heads of holy figures. Outside the church of Iyyesus Wanza, on the south side in line with its east end, are the remains of what would appear to have been a series of three more monolithic altars which might once have been enclosed in a built structure.
 The priests reported to Ewa Balicka-Witakowska in November 2002 that the tomb of SS. Abräha and Atsbäha in the south compartment of the sanctuary is a monolith covered by metal. It must have originated as a monolithic altar and later been designated as the so-called “grave” of the church's patrons. The compartment is closed by a wall with a window-like opening and an entry. It is opened only once a year on the festival day of SS. Abräha and Atsbäha.
The monolithic mänbärä tabot is to be found at Abba Yohanni, Enda Maryam
Wuqro, Johannes Magudi, May Kado Giyorgis and Tselal Moo. A cavity to hold the tabot
was carved out of the front of the monolithic altar at Bahera Maryam in recent
times, in the process destroying the painting of the Virgin Mary between the
archangels. Previously, access may only have been from the east side, but the
existence of such an opening has not been confirmed. The monolith in the
 Gerster, Churches in Rock, p. 102; Jean Gire & Roger Schneider, “Étude des églises rupestres du Tigré : Premiers résultats de la mission 1970”, Travaux de la recherche coopérative sur programme R.C.P. 230, Documents pour servir à l’histoire des civilisations éthiopiennes, (series later named Abbay) fasc. 1, 1970, pp. 73-79 and 12 pl. hors texte (pp. 74, 78-79 and pl. 3-4, 11-12); Lepage, “installations liturgiques”, pp. 99-101; Mordini, “Ucrò”, p. 526; Roger Sauter, “Églises rupestres au Tigré”, Annales d’Éthiopie, X (1976), pp. 157-175 (p. 160, no. 8).
 René Basset, “Vie d’Abbâ Yohanni”, Bulletin de Correspondance Africaine, III (1884), pp. 433-53 (p. 440).
 Monti della Corte, Lalibelà , between pp. 59 & 60; Buxton, “Christian Antiquities”, p. 28/b; Barriviera, chiese in roccia, pl. 9; Gerster, Churches in Rock, p. 102 & fig. 79; Leroy, L’Éthiopie, p. 139; Hein & Kleidt, Ethiopia, p. 146.
 See above, n. 38.
 Manoel de Almeida, Some Records of Ethiopia 1593-1646, being extracts from “The History of High Ethiopia or Abassia” by Manoel de Almeida together with Bahrey’s “History of the Galla”, ed. C.F. Beckingham & George Wynn Brereton Huntingford, London: Hakluyt Society, Works, second series, vol. CVII, 1954, p. 61.
 Lepage, “Berakit”, p. 176; Gerster, Churches in Rock, p. 135 & pl. 191. See also Gigar Tesfaye, “Reconnaissance de Trois Eglises Antérieures à 1314”, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, XII/2 (1974), pp. 57-75 (p. 64).
 Sergew H.S., Ethiopian History, p. 275. The author nevertheless concludes that “the art employed on these statues … is Oriental” (ibid.).
 Leroy, L’Éthiopie, p. 136.
 Leroy, L’Éthiopie, p. 140.
 Lepage, “premier art”, p. 46.
 Beckingham & Huntingford, Prester John, vol. 1, p. 221.
 J.-B. Coulbeaux indicates that King Lalibäla’s remains lay in the Church of Betä Mariam (Histoire Politique et Religieuse d’Abyssinie Depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à l’avènement de Ménélik II, 2 vols., Paris, 1928 or 1929, vol. 1, p. 269.
 The dedication of the Church of Golgotha in Lalibäla to the memory of Christ’s Crucifixion and burial in a rock-cut tomb on the Golgotha hill in Jerusalem makes this site a symbolic representation of the aedicule of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The tradition which places Christ’s Birth in a rock-cut grotto commemorated by the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and his burial in a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem from which the Resurrection occurred, provides the context for the phenomenon of rock-cut ecclesiastical buildings in the Christian world (see Michael Gervers, “The Iconography of the Cave in Christian and Mithraic Tradition”, in Mysteria Mithrae, ed. Ugo Bianchi, Leiden, 1979, pp. 579-96). The fifteenth-century gadl of King Lalibäla, which is more a work of hagiography than a history, contains many elements which serve to compare the king’s life with that of Christ, while his “burial” beside the “tomb of Christ” in the rock-cut environment of the Church of Golgotha emphasizes the theme of Resurrection attached to the site (see Michael Gervers, “The Mediterranean Context for the Medieval Rock-Cut Churches of Ethiopia”, Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, University of Addis Ababa, 26-30 November 1984, Addis Ababa - Frankfurt am Main, 1988, vol. 1, pp. 171-83; idem, “The Monolithic Church of Wuqro Mäsqäl Krəstos”, Africana Bulletin, 50 (2002), pp. 99-113, esp. pp. 111-13; Lepage, “Origine” pp. 207-10).
van Donzel, “Ethiopia’s Lalibäla”, p. 40.
Heldman, “Legends”, p. 35.
Heldman, “Legends”, p. 33 & fig. 6.
 E.A.W. Budge, The Book of Saints (= Synaxary), 4 vols., London, 1928 (reprinted, Hildesheim-New York, 1976), vol. 1, pp. xix-xx; van Donzel, “Ethiopia’s Lalibäla”, pp. 35 & n. 57, 38. Heldman (“Legends”, p. 35) postpones the inclusion until the sixteenth century.
Getatchew Haile and Wm. F. Macomber, A Catalogue of Ethiopian Manuscripts
Microfilmed for the Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library, Addis Ababa and for
the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Collegeville, vol. 5, Collegeville,
MN, 1981, pp. 121-22; Heldman, “Legends”, p. 33; Munro-Hay, Unknown Land,
p. 190. The example in the British Museum (Or. 719), which may be the oldest
surviving copy, is dated to 1434 (C.W. Wright, ed., Catalogue of the
Ethiopic manuscripts in the British Museum acquired since the year 1847,
London, 1877, nos. 294 & 295. Lepage (“premier art”, p. 45) and van Donzel
In the second half of the twelfth century, and apparently as late as the
fifteenth century when the Gadla Yəmrähannä Krəstos was
written, the site was known as Arafah/Adefa (Munro-Hay, Unknown Land,
pp. 193-94). Sergew H.S. thought the change from another name, Werwer,
to Roha took place at some point early on in the construction of the site (Ethiopian
History, p. 273). On Roha/Warwar, see also Heldman “Legends”, p. 29, and
van Donzel, “
 van Donzel, “Ethiopia’s Lalibäla”, p. 38.
 P. Piovanelli, “Les controverses théologiques sous le roi Zar'a Yā'qob (1434-1468) et la mise en place du monophysisme éthiopien”, in : Alain Le Boulluec, ed., La controverse religieuse et ses formes, Paris, 1995, pp. 189-228; Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians. An Introduction to Country and People, 2nd ed. London, 1965, p. 105; Getachew Haile, “Religious Controversies and Growth of Ethiopic Literature in the 14th and 15th Centuries”, Oriens Christianus, 65 (1981), pp. 102-36, esp. pp. 131-32; idem, “Ethiopian Saints”, in The Coptic Encyclopedia, vol. 4, NY, 1991, pp. 1050-53; Taddesse, Church and State, pp. 206-47.
 Gigar, “Inscriptions”, pp. 114-19.
 Gigar, “Inscriptions”, p. 108.
Gianfrancesco Lusini argues that it does, noting that the spiritual father of
Ewostatewos (1273-1352) was Dan’el, abbot of Däbrä Maryam on
Gigar, “Inscriptions”; Munro-Hay,
 Buxton, “Ethiopian Medieval Architecture”, p. 243, n. 1.