After you are through visiting the medieval rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia, it is recommended that you visit a few in the countryside. I’ve visited a total of 5 during my two trips. Two are located in shallow caves, and 3 are sited adjacent to major rock outcrops.
Visiting these rural churches has a distinct pattern to it. The routine goes something like this:
- Pay a nominal entry fee ($5-$10) and wait for an Ethiopian priest.
- Walk through the church (except for the Holy of Holies room which is reserved for priests) and observe the unique features each church contains. For some, it is collecting of holy water; for others, it is collecting of holy honey; and in others, it’s the unique artwork (much of it in bad shape).
- The priest then gets dressed up for a photograph.
- The priest shows off some the unique relics that the church contains. One of them is almost always a book.
- Tip the priest $5
The siting of 2 of the churches is quite spectacular; they are located inside shallow caves. One of the churches has a large cistern located under the floor; the other has holy water dripping from the roof of the cave. The monastic church just outside of Lalibela (not far off the airport road) is somewhat reminiscent of the Anasazi ruins in southwestern America.
The churches that are not located in caves have temporary roofs (built on scaffolding) to protect the stone structure from rain and subsequent water erosion. Unfortunately, the scaffolding hides (or greatly detracts from) their exteriors.
Visiting these churches and their adjacent communities is very much like visiting rural Europe during the Middle Ages. I doubt that religion and life have changed much over the last 1000 years.