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November 01, 2021

The Ethiopic Orthodox Church

In the late twelfth century, Jerusalem had reverted to Islamic control once again as the occupying European Crusaders lost the city to a Muslim army. Concerned that Jerusalem would become closed to Christian pilgrims, the Ethiopian king, Lalibela, took action. Lalibela commissioned a series of churches to be constructed in the hills of northern Ethiopia. He hoped to construct a New Jerusalem as an alternative destination for Christian pilgrims.

The area where these churches were fashioned is today known as Lalibela, after the king. The spectacular churches of Lalibela were carved out of solid rock and are now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. True to the king’s vision, they include sites that are intended to honor prominent biblical places, such as the tomb of Jesus and the manger of his birth. Ethiopians traditionally trace their lineage to the biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church bears a striking liturgical resemblance to Judaism in that it continues a number of Jewish practices abandoned by most Christian churches. These include the observance of Jewish dietary laws, like the prohibition of pork. While it may not be one of the more internationally well-known branches of Christianity, the Ethiopic Orthodox Church is unique, and shows an enduring engagement with sites, artifacts, and practices of the Bible.

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