Ethiopia’s Jerusalem model
is said to have made a copy of the sites in Jerusalem and incorporated them
into his model – whether it is a “treasure map or not”.
In the 12th century, the Ethiopian emperor Lalibela recreated the sites
of Jerusalem – where he had spent time in exile – in what would
become the new capital of his empire – and which would be renamed
Lalibela… which would become known as the eight wonder of the world.
The site is also well-known for its tales of mystery, and the alleged presence of the Ark of the Covenant – a relic which some believe also lies at the centre of the mystery of Saunière. After all, the locations that Saunière tried to identify on the model must have been important sites… containing an important deposit.
“Bees recognized his sovereignty”
recent years, the story that all churches were erected during his reign
have been placed into down, but the fact remains that all were eventually
built, and have remained intact for more than half a millennium. The role
of Lalibela as the one who conceived of the idea has also remained intact.
Lalibela, though second in line to the throne, was predestined to rule the country. Legend has it that one day his mother saw him happily in his cradle surrounded by a dense swarm of bees. Recalling an old Ethiopian belief that the animal could foretell the advent of important personages, she cried out: “The bees know this child will become King.” Accordingly, she called her son ‘Lalibela’, which means “the bee recognizes his sovereignty”.
In the story of Rennes-le-Château, there are some references to bees. Specifically, with the creation of the link between that affair and the Merovingian kings, the importance of the bee becomes prominent. When the tomb of one of the earliest Merovingian kings was unearthed, a treasure including 300 tiny gold bees was discovered. When Napoleon was crowned, he insisted that his coronation cloak included the 300 bees embroidered into it. When he married Marie Louise Habsburg, he insisted that these same bees be embroidered into her wedding gown. It shows that the bee is a universal and old symbol of kingship.
The eighth wonder of the world
constructed 13 rock-hewn churches in his capital Roha; each was cut out
of a solid red volcanic rock. Some of the churches lie almost completely
hidden in deep trenches, while others stand in open quarried caves. A complex
and bewildering labyrinth of tunnels and narrow passageways with offset
crypts, grottoes and galleries connects the churches.
The churches can be divided into two main groups: one to the south, the other to the north of a stream known as the Jordan River. Lalibela had the river renamed to reflect the Jerusalem landscape. One solitary church, dedicated to St George, sits outside both groups.
Astoundingly, the churches were carved from the rock from the roof down. After determining the location, trenches sometimes 15 meters deeps would be dug on 4 sides. From there, a single mound of rock would stand and the churches would take shape as the soft volcanic tuff would be chiselled and carved away creating the enormous churches that exist today. Even more exceptional than the ability to create such a large structure from a single block is the remarkable attention to detail with ornately carved windows, vaulted ceilings, hidden rooms, multiple floors, winding staircases and secret tunnels.
Though Graham Hancock has made Ethiopia popular as the location of the Ark, the Ethiopian worship of the Ark is not Jewish – they always stated they were Christian. The Ark is furthermore identified with Mary of Zion.
The northern group
first group of churches lie in their rock cradles, one behind the other,
north of river. They are six in number: Bet Golgotha, Bet Mika’el
(also known as Bet-Sina), Bet Maryam, Bet Meskel, Bet Danaghel, and Bet
Medhane Alem, which is the largest of all churches. In a corner of the church,
one can see three empty graves said to have been symbolically dug for the
biblical personages of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
A few minutes’ walk from Bet Medhane is Bet Maryam, dedicated to Mary, the mother of Christ. It is the site of a gigantic pillar, constantly wrapped in a shroud, so that the visitors would not be able to read the secret name of God that is said to have been inscribed on the pillar.
When Graham Hancock visited the site, he learned from one of the priests that the following was the name of God:
This is most likely the following magic square:
This magic square was well-known during the Middle Ages, specifically in Rome, where this square was inscribed on a variety of common, everyday objects such as utensils and drinking vessels. It was also found above doorways. It was believed that the square had magical properties, and that making it visible would ward off evil spirits. The words on this square roughly translate to "The Creator (or Saviour) holds the working of the spheres in his hands." It is unlikely that this is indeed the “Secret Name” of God. For one, the priest would not have given it so easily to Graham Hancock if it was, and more likely, the priest gave Hancock a “substitute cipher”.
The Tomb of Jesus
the northern wall of the Bet Maryam courtyard is the excavated chapel of
Bet Meskel. It contains several large caves, some of them inhibited by hermits.
Jutting out at the south of the Bet Maryam courtyard is the little chapel of Bet Danaghel, constructed in honour of maidens martyred Julian the Apostate.
A tunnel at the southern end of the Bet Maryam courtyard leads to the interconnected churches of Bet Golgotha and Bet Mika’el, which, together with the Tomb of Jesus, the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam, form the most mysterious complex in Lalibela.
The Cell of Jesus and the Selassie chapel are two shrines located at the east end of the right-hand nave of the church. The Tomb of Christ is an arched recess in the north-east corner of the church. It is protected by an iron grate; inside is the recumbent figure in low relief, lying on the floor, facing east, his hands crossed over his chest, wearing a short, thigh-length tunic. The face is featureless, either unfinished or rendered purposely thus. Near it is a movable slab set into the floor, said to cover the most secret place of the holy city: the tomb or the crypt of the emperors.
The complex is intriguing, as it brings together the key features of the Passion, also identified on Saunière’s model. However, it is intriguing that there is a church dedicated to St Michael, also the patron saint of Perillos. Equally interesting is the presence of a Tomb of Adam, which on the model might be said to be the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Finally, the Selassie chapel is linked with the Selassie crypt, which is the most sacred and secret aspect of the entire complex, where the Ethiopian emperors are buried.
We note that the Tomb of Adam is correctly placed in connection with Golgotha, as tradition had it that Adam was buried there. Finally, the crypt of Lalibela and the other emperors could be compared to the presence of a mausoleum for the rulers of Perillos, which according to ancient accounts is somewhere outside, but nevertheless close to, the village.
Further exploration of Lalibela
doorway at the east end of the right-hand nave of Bet Golgotha opens on
to the Selassie Chapel, a place of greatest sanctity that is rarely open
even to the priests, and very few visitors have been permitted to enter
it. The shrine is completely imprisoned in the rock and features three monolithic
altars. The central altar displays a relief decoration of four winged creatures
with hands raised in prayer, ought to be representations of the four evangelists.
It is the Selassie crypt that is said to have once housed the Ark of the Covenant, and where apparently the emperors were buried.
group south of the Jordan River comprises four churches: Bet Amanuel, Bet
Merkorios, Bet Abba Libanos, and Bet Gabriel-Rafael. It is suspected that
some of these churches, including the Bet Gabriel-Rafael, were originally
not intended to serve as a church, but rather as houses or storehouses.
Others argue that this group represented the Heavenly Jerusalem. The Bet
Gabriel-Rafael is believed to have been the King’s home and contains
a secret entrance and even has a 15-meter deep ‘moat’. At the
bottom of the dry moat lie three wells, representing the three boys saved
by the angel Gabriel.
The roof of the Bet Abba Libanos is three-quarters cut, but is believed to have remained attached not because the masons ran out of time, interest or money, but to symbolize the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant.
The church of St George
Finally, there is the remarkable church of Bet Giyorgis, possibly the most elegant of all the Lalibela structures, located on its own. It is located to the south-west of the village on a sloping rock terrace. In a deep pit with perpendicular walls, it can only be reached through a tunnel. Standing on a three-tiered plinth, Bet Giyorgis is shaped in the form of a Greek cross, which some visitors have too hastily identified as a Templar cross – and have hence gone on to argue that a Templar presence was here at the time of construction. Still, scientists are willing to accept that the northern complex and Bet Giyorgis appear to disregard the Axumite traditions almost entirely, suggesting a foreign influence. It was, of course, Lalibela who constructed these buildings and it is known that he did not rule from Axum – and that his entire Zagwe dynasty was not Axum-based. The most likely explanation is that this “foreign influence” was therefore Lalibela himself, who must have been introduced to different architectural designs during his sojourn in Jerusalem.
A Priory of Sion
created a shift in traditional Ethiopian worship. It changed the focus away
from Axum, towards Lalibela. But after the Zagwe Dynasty, religious power
was restored to Axum. The story goes that the Ark of the Covenant was stored
in Axum, specifically in the claim made by Graham Hancock. Recent research,
by Grierson & Munro-Hay argues that this claim is speculative at best;
the Ethiopians themselves do not claim to possess the Ark, though they do
claim to possess the Tablets of Moses, said to have been stored inside the
Rather than a cult for the Ark, there is a cult for the “tabot”, which is centred on the church of St Mary of Zion, where the relic is said to be housed. Here, we a guardian who will protect the relic throughout his life-time. The office is respected and is one of the best known institutions in the country. Whereas the title of “Prester John” is no longer given to the Ethiopian kings, that of guardian remains in existence.
With the presence of a “John” – claimed by the people who created the Priory of Sion to be the honorary title of their grand master – and a site dedicated to Zion – or Sion – could Ethiopia also have formed the inspiration for Plantard’s Priory of Sion?
decided to recreate a copy of Jerusalem on his home town. The question should
be asked whether people in Europe might have done the same. It is known
that many Western rules built replicas of buildings from the Holy Land,
specifically the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of which was constructed
in Bruges, Belgium. It served as the tomb of the family who had built it.
Another parallel has been made by the Dutch researcher Klaas Van Urk. He argues that the mystery of Rennes-le-Château involves the Ark of the Covenant. He believes that the Ark was taken from Jerusalem to Lalibela, where it was housed in the Selassie crypt, before its eventual theft to southern France, where he believes it remained on the territory of Perillos for an undefined period of time – perhaps until the present time.
The connection between Lalibela and the Ark of the Covenant has been made by other researchers. It is a fact that the first reference to the Ark of the Covenant dates from Lalibela’s reign, and that references are not to Axum, where Hancock located the Ark, but to Lalibela.
We also know that the Ark can kill. In the story of Rennes-le-Château, we know of the affair of Daniel Bettex, who searched for the Ark and who was found dead in the village of Bugarach, where an underground stream flows towards Perillos and Salses. According to Jean Robin, Bettex spoke to the famous Mossad general Moshe Dayan, who suggested that if Bettex were to find the artefact, he should never touch it – thus repeating stories that are in the Bible, who speak of the misfortunes that befell the people who touched it – often with fatal consequences.
Ethiopia and the Ark of the Covenant
whereas many have claimed that the tabot are actually representations of
the Ark of the Covenant, nothing could be further from the truth. Ethiopia
is a Christian country and the Ethiopians themselves see the tabot as a
symbol of the grave of Christ. The tabot is therefore representative of
the Tomb of Christ.
It is unclear when the Tablets of Moses originally came to Ethiopia – or whether they are in fact the legitimate tablets at all. What is known, is that the first references to the “Ark” and its presence in Ethiopia were noted at the time of the Zagwe Dynasty. It suggests that the artefact would not have been housed in Axum, but in Lalibela – with a transfer to Axum most likely occurring after 1270, when the Zagwe rule over Ethiopia had ended and Axum once again became the power centre.
With its dedication to Mary, it is assumed that the Beta Maryam, where Hancock was told that the name of God had been carved onto the central pillar, was the most likely location where the “Ark” would have been kept. We con only wonder whether it ever left Ethiopia – if it ever was there – or whether the parallels between symbolic landscapes, either in Ethiopia or on models, is just a coincidence.