King Lalibela

king lalibela

Emperor Gebre Meskel Lalibela


Gebre Mesqel Lalibela was a great king of the Zagwe dynasty whose reign lasted forty years, spanning the end of the 12th century and the opening decades of the 13th.


gebre meskel lalibela ethiopia


He is credited with the building of the rock-hewn churches in Roha, later renamed in his honor. Emperor and Saint - Lalibela is celebrated by the Ethiopian Tewadeho Orthodox Church on the 12th of Sene or June 19th.



According the a well-known fable, a swarm of bees surrounded the infant Lalibela at his birth, a sign which his mother took to be a portent of his long and prosperous reign as king.


king lalibela of ethiopia


Indeed, his reign was fruitful, and the name Lalibela means "the bees obey him in Agew/Agaw."

Due to this prophecy, his brother the Emperor Harbay became jealous of him, which caused Lalibela as he matured to leave the world and become a hermit in the mountainous region of Tigray.

During his stay in Tigray he met his wife Mesqel Kibra or "glory of the cross" and proceeded to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or the Holy Land which at the time was under the Roman Catholic rule.


saint lalibela


The isolated Ethiopian empire was beginning to make overtures to the West, through Pope Alexander III, for an alliance.

Lalibela upon hearing what his brother was up to, returned to Roha in Ethiopia with his supporters and forced Emperor Harbay to abdicate the throne.

The Ethiopian Tewadeho Church is recognized to have helped Lalibela ascend the throne due to their opposition of Harbay's relationship to Catholic Rome.


king lalibela with other kings


Lalibela took the name Gebre Meskal or "servant of the cross" at his coronation as Emperor of Ethiopia. He went on to be a beloved ruler of the land despite trouble brewing from the nobles in Shewa and Tigray as well as Muslim's who were encroaching upon the land.


emperor lalibela ethiopia


Lalibela's greatest achievement undoubtedly lies in the eleven monolithic churches he constructed in his new capital city.

The cultural and religious hub, which bears his name to this day, is modeled after Jerusalem.

In a vision, King Lalibela saw that he was to build a new Jerusalem after the old Jerusalem was besieged by Saladin in 1187.

The new city was to be located at the site of the present-day town of Lalibela and to be made the Zagwe dynasty's new capital.


king lalibela roha ethiopia


It is said that King Lalibela built ten of the churches, and his wife built the eleventh one in his honor.

A pious man an lifelong devotee of the church, he was made a saint by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after his death.



Lalibela's incredible rock-hewn churches are a UNESCO World Heritage Site today and are a major pilgrimage destination for the Ethiopian church.