Orthodox Tewahedo celebration of Epiphany in the stunning Lalibela

Our trip through Ethiopia take us in the central area to a fascinating and mysterious city at 2.700 meters above the sea level, Unesco World Heritage since the 60s: Lalibela. This city, which follows the name of its “holy king” Lalibela, is known as well as the second “Jerusalem” and it’s famous for its distinctive rock-cut churches dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, which are pilgrimage sites for Coptic Christians. 

Lalibela, Church of St George
Lalibela, Church of St George

After the conquering of Jerusalem by the Muslims, the King Lalibela wanted to defend the Christendom of its city and ordered to build churches carved in the rocks, linked by tunnels, creating a new Jerusalem, where the pilgrims could go to pray and for pilgrimages. The king, thanks to his past in Jerusalem, reproduced the main places of Palestine, including the “Jordan River“. Every year, a massive number of pilgrims, gather together to celebrate the Coptic festivities.

Lalibela
Lalibela, faithfull celebrating the Coptic epiphany

Our trip to Lalibela coincided with the Coptic Epiphany, and for 2 days, we could experience the worshippers celebrating the event of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The ceremony consists in a procession of people which, by singing and dancing, follow the priests who are holding the Tablot, the Tables of the Ten Commandments contained in the “Sancta Sanctorum” of each church, till reaching the river which symbolises the Baptismal font.

 

After the first day spent visiting the impressive rock-cut churches, the second day we woke up at dawn to take place along the busy road with many believers waiting for the religious procession to come. When the Tewahedo priests that were holding the tablets passed by us, we followed the hundreds of pilgrims to the river, where the Baptism ritual was celebrated. It was a very evocative experience for us, and we highly recommend to visit this fantastic city, above all during the religious festivities.

Lalibela, a priest in the procession
Lalibela, a priest in the procession

Need to know about Lalibela

Timkat is celebrated on January 19th (or 20th in a leap year) that correspond to the 10th day of Terr in the Ethiopian calendar.

When to go: the best time to visit Lalibela is from November to February, being the driest with bearable temperatures.

Where to sleep: Lalibela offers a good range of accommodations, from the homestay, guest houses to Lodge. We slept at Emanuel Guesthouse.

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