Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela Need Urgent Repair

Addis Ababa October 13/2018 The Rock-hewn Church of Lalibela, a world-renowned UNESCO world heritage site, needs an urgent repair, as the damage to the church is becoming serious.

The monuments are severely degraded from water damage as the drainage ditches at the church were filled with earth for several centuries, before being cleared in the 20th century.

A temporary shelter was built to protect the monuments from the rains, since erosion due mainly to weathering is damaging the stone surfaces of all the churches.

Though the plan was to conduct a research and repair the monuments urgently, renovation does not start yet, because the research took more than eight years, according to Hailu Zeleke, Director of Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage.

“The heritage needs conservation but their renovation needs research, time and care. Cultural heritage conservation research doesn’t allow hasty measures in rescuing cultural heritage. If it does not support with rigorous research, it aggravates the cracking of the heritages. Therefore, it is preferable to conduct scientific research of repairing method of the heritage with inputs made up of similar particles”, Hailu said.

Hailu said the authority is working with experts, relevant and concerned bodies to rescue the heritage.

Concerned with the increasing damage of the churches, residents of Amhara regional state, where the heritage is found, have held a demonstration last weekend, demanding an urgent action from the government.

Saying that the government shares the concern with the people, Hailu said the Authority is working with UNESCO on ways of renovating the heritage.

“This year we and concerned bodies agreed to repair all heritages under the temporary shelter and then to remove the shelter. The same is true for UNESCO that recommends removing the shelter from the endangered heritage soon,” he said.

However, financial constraint and lack of experts who will repair the heritage are posing a challenge to the timely restoration of the monuments, he said.

Repair expense for the churches of Bete-Mariam, Bete-Medihaniyalem, Bete-Amanuel, and Bete-Libanos will cost about 300 million Birr, he said.

The government has allocated 20 million Birr for the restoration of the monuments of Lalibela, 50 percent of the budget it allocated for the restoration of all cultural heritages of the country, Hailu said.

Archeology and Heritage Department Lecturer at Addis Ababa University Dr. Mengistu Gobeze said that the churches of Lalibela should be restored at any cost as they are the “symbol of national pride”.

“The cultural heritages of Lalibela are relics of Ethiopia’s cultural and religious identity as well as center of researches which help to shed light on the past history of Ethiopia,” he added.

“The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are symbols of national pride. They are brands; we cannot determine their real value in terms of money. 300 million Birr should be collected very soon to save the heritages from destruction. The government should immediately repair and remove the shelter of the endangered heritages as soon as possible,” Mengistu said.

Getu Assefa, National Officer for Culture at UNESCO Liaison Office in Addis Ababa, said two of the churchs that are in critical condition have already repaired based on the research that took 8 years to be completed.

He said Bete-Gebriel and Bete-Rufael, two of the 11 rock hewn churches of Lalibela are repaired successfully.

Getu said the difficulty in the restoration activity was how to repair the cracks with long years of guarantee and sustainability. The research helped the experts to arrive on the solution on how to repair and renovate the heritage.

The UN body is thinking of replicating the experience gained in repairing these churches on the rest of the churches that need restoration.

Saying that UNESCO and the government of Ethiopia are concerned over the damage of the heritage, Getu noted that they are trying to raise funds from donors for the renovation of the churches.

He added that the repairing and renovation work on the rest of the churches will start as soon as the fund necessary for the work is secured.

The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, also called the ‘New Jerusalem,’ are located in the Amhara region; still attract thousands of believers from Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christian Church.

The churches, attributed to King Lalibela of Ethiopia, are examples of a long-established Ethiopian building tradition.