Church of Bet Giyorgis, Lalibela, Ethiopia
Image by A. Davey
In this photo, I believe the slope of the original ground surface is visible in the upper right corner.
Before Bet Giyorgis was created in the 13th century, a photo from my vantage point would have shown a solid hillside that sloped gently from right to left.
I don’t know whether it is an optical illusion, but it looks like the top of Bet Giyorgis is higher than the ground where I am standing and higher than the ground surface to the left.
If so, it means the original ground surface was higher than the surrounding terrain where the top of Bet Giyorgis now stands, or edge of the pit was lowered on these two sides as part of the excavation process. Perhaps that was done to allow more light to enter the church and its basin.
This would be good time to mention there is more than one way to spell this church’s name. I have been using "Bet Giorgis,"
Based solely on Google hits, "Bet Giorgis" is the second most frequent spelling. It comes in a distant second to "Bet Giyorgis." The most uncommon spelling is "Bet Gyorgys."
Then, there are two ways to spell the first name, which I believe means "house" or "house of" in Amharic (e.g., "Bet Giyorgis" means "House of George," after St. George, to whom the church is dedicated): there’s "Bet," which I have been using, and "Bete," which I have seen native speakers use.
If I hadn’t already used "Bet Giorgis" so often in this photostream, I would go back and change it to "Bet Giyorgis" everywhere it appears. Instead, I’ll do the next best thing, and start using it right now.
According to the Web site sacredsites.com,
"The most remarkable of the Lalibela churches, called Bet Giorgis, is dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of Ethiopia."
"According to legend, when King Lalibela had almost completed the group of churches which God had instructed him to build, Saint George appeared (in full armor and riding his white horse) and sharply reproached the king for not having constructed a house for him. Lalibela promised to build a church more beautiful than all the others for the saint."
"The church of Bet Giorgis is a nearly perfect cube, hewn in the shape of a cross, and is oriented so that the main entrance is in the west and the holy of holies in the east. The nine windows of the bottom row are blind; the twelve windows above are functional."
"One of the most sophisticated details of Bet Giorgis is that the wall thickness increases step by step downwards but that the horizontal bands of molding on the exterior walls cleverly hide the increase."
"The roof decoration, often used today as the symbol of the Lalibela monuments, is a relief of three equilateral Greek crosses inside each other. The church is set in a deep pit with perpendicular walls and it can only be entered via a hidden tunnel carved in the stone."