Gebre Mesqel Lalibela (also called “Lalibela”, which means “the bees recognize his sovereignty” in Old Agaw language) is the most famous and marveled of all the Zagwe kings reigned in Ethiopia.
He is well known for building the eleven famous rock-hewn churches in his capital city, known as Roha. The eleven rock-hewn churches are:
• Madhané Alam
• Abba Libanos
• Gabr’él-Rufa’él, and
King Lalibela was born at either Adefa or Roha (it was later named Lalibela after him). Lalibela’s life is full of legends.
It is alleged that upon his birth, he was surrounded by a cloud of bees. Therefore, his mother gave him the name Lalibela, which means, “the bees are aware of his sovereignty.” Also according to legend, he was told by God “to build ten monolithic churches (Henze 51).”
According to the legend, he went into exile due to the hostility of his uncle Tatadim and his brother king Kedus Harbe, and was almost poisoned to death by his half-sister.
King Lalibela is said to have seen Jerusalem in his dream and then decided to build a new Jerusalem as his capital in response to the capture of old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187.
Many features of his town have Biblical names – even the town’s river is known as the River Jordan, graves called Adam and Jesus Christ. This effort of the King shows his attempt to recreate Jerusalem, the Holy City, in his city, for Jerusalem had been captured by Muslims and pilgrimage for Ethiopian Christians had become complicated.
Unlike the other Zagwe kings, a considerable amount of written material has endured about his reign, besides the Gadla Lalibela (later Lalibela).
The Italian scholar Carlo Conti Rossini has edited and published some of the land grants that survived from his reign. After his death, Lalibela was buried in Golgotha (Pankhurst 49-52).
Keywords: Roha, King Lalibela, rock-hewn churches, Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, Agaw, Adefa, Kedus Harbe, Tatadim, River Jordan, Jerusalem, Madhané Alam, Maryam, Denagel, Sellasé, Golgotha, Mika’él, Amanu’él, Marquréwos, Abba Libanos, Gabr’él-Rufa’él, and Giyorgis, Golgotha