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Bet Medhane Alem (House of the Redeemer of the World)

16 Comments · Rock-hewn churches

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Bet Medhane Alem is the largest monolithic rock-hewn church in the world, measuring 11.5m in height and covering an area of almost 800m2.

A plain building, held up by 36 pillars on the inside and another 36 around the outside, Bet Medhane Alem has a classical dignity reminiscent of an Ancient Greek temple, a resemblance that has led some experts to imagine it was modeled on the original St Mary Zion Church built by King Ezana at Axum.

The interior of the church is also plain, and its huge size creates a cathedral-like austerity. Graves have been carved into the rock floor; they are no longer permanently occupied, Bet Medhane Alem has a wide courtyard whose walls are pockmarked with niches that originally served as graves or hermits’ caves.

Approaching the most eastern church of this group, Bet Medhane Alem, you first catch a sight of the roof, decorated with relief crosses connected by blind arcades, and the upper part of the solemn colonnade surrounding the church: The roof demonstrates traces of the plaster remains of the restoration efforts of the early 1930′s.

The tuff, from which the church is carved, blazes a typical deep pink color in striking harmony to the brownish-yellow earth and green-leaved trees of the landscape.

It is a dignified structure, standing on its platform with its pitched roof and surrounding external columns, somewhat reminiscent of ancient Greek temple architecture.

Keywords: St Mary Zion Church, Bet Medhane Alem, rock-hewn church,

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