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Renovating a 12th-century New Jerusalem—the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia

Church of St.George, Bete Giyorgis, Lilabela, Ethiopia

In 2001, the US Congress authorized the US Department of State to award grants through American embassies to support cultural heritage preservation in other countries. The US Congress stated that “Cultural preservation offers an opportunity to show a different American face to other countries, one that is non-commercial, non-political, and non-military. By taking a leading role in efforts to preserve cultural heritage, we show our respect for other cultures by protecting their traditions.” Since its inauguration in 2001, the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation has awarded $55 million in support for more than 870 projects in more than 125 countries.

The 2016 awards, listed here, included a grant to support renovation of the famous rock-cut churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia. The Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) recently announced that following work on the rock-hewn churches, additional renovation work is imminent of other sites in Ethiopia. Of the 200 or so rock-cut churches in Ethiopia, 11 rock-cut churches in Lalibela were constructed/carved out in the 12th century to form a “New Jerusalem”—essentially a symbolic representation of Jerusalem for pilgrims that could not make the trek to Jerusalem itself. These churches were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978. One of them –Bete Medhane Alem—is believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world. (The 2012 photo above of Church of St. George, Bete Giyorgis, by Bernard Gagnon shared here under CC BY-SA 3.0)


A Trip Through the Stunning, Rock-Hewed Churches of Ethiopia

By Lucas Peterson

The New York Times

November 18, 2017

Ethiopia: Authority to renovate Unesco inscribed heritage

By Tsegay Hagos


October, 2017

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