Geoparks Africa
World Heritage Sites

Bet Emanuel: The House which Angels Built in Ethiopia

The House of Emanuel

Bet Emanuel or Biete Amanuel essentially translates into ‘the house of Emanuel.’

The stone cut church is one of eleven monolithic rock hewn churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Lalibela, was actually intended to be some sort of a ‘New Jerusalem.’

Now it is a major pilgrimage site for followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Traditionally the structure dates back to the rule of King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela of the Zagwe Dynasty, between the 12th and 13th century.

The King is said to have carved the churches over a period of 24 years with the assistance of angels.

Except that scholars contend that the expansive religious complex was constructed by humans in four or five phases between the 7th and 13th centuries.

Out of several hundred rock churches found in Ethiopia, Bet Emanuel is one of the most finely carved examples. It has been suggested to have been the royal family’s private chapel. 

The church is 18 by 12 meters, and 12 meters in height, follows a basilica layout, and features a staircase leading to an upper gallery.

There is also a subterranean tunnel leading to the neighbouring church of Bet Mercurios.

The entire structure is carved from a single block of basaltic rock, carved from the top down using little more than chisels and adzes.

The carved windows, doors, arches, vaults, columns, and alternating bands of recessed and projecting horizontal surfaces closely mimic the classic Aksumite architecture of the preceding era, perhaps in a bid to legitimize the new dynasty.