The Unesco World Heritage site of Lalibela in Ethiopia is one of the most extraordinary places in the world. It contains thirteen churches hewn or carved from the native tufa rock in imitation of buildings. As legend has it, the site was founded in the 13th century by King Lalibela, ruler of a newly united kingdom a number of centuries after the fall of the sacred capital Aksum. However, nothing of its accepted or assumed history can be regarded as certain. Lalibela and the Ethiopian kingdom remained unknown to the West during the period of the Crusades and first came to western notice when its ruler sent an embassy to Portugal at the beginning of the 16th century. Dissecting the fragmentary evidence--including decorations, church furnishings, manuscripts, and mural paintings--requires a knowledge of Ethiopian culture and its languages that the authors of this book are rare in possessing.
This is the first book to consider this extraordinary site in all its many dimensions--historical and cultural, archaeological, architectural, art historical, and documentary.
Claude Lepage is professor emeritus, chair of Byzantine art, at the Ecole pratique des hautes-etudes, Paris, author with Jacques Mercier of Art Ethiopien: Les Eglises historiques du Tigray. Jacques Mercier is researcher at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris, and author of Vierges d'Ethiopie: Portraits de Marie dans la peinture ethiopienne and L'Arche Ethiopienne: Art chritien d'ethiopie.