60 Minutes Features Historic Lalibela

CBS News' 60 Minutes explores Ethiopia's historic Lalibela churches. (CBS)


The Ethiopian Orthodox Church says the churches were made by angels, but no one knows exactly who made them or why. The 11 churches rose out of a plateau in Ethiopia 800 years ago. They were excavated, meticulously carved out of one huge piece of rock, by people called the Zagwe around 1,200 AD. The King of the Zagwe, Lalibela, from whom the site gets its name, is said to have ordered its construction to replace Jerusalem after the city was conquered by Islam. And pilgrims today continue to make their way there on foot for Christmas as they have for centuries. All of which makes for a fascinating and fitting 60 Minutes report for the holiday season. Scott Pelley made the trip in time for the Christmas vigil and tells the story Sunday, December 1, at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. PT on CBS.

Fasil Giorghis, an Ethiopian architect and historian, knows the stories and the churches as well as anyone. He tells Pelley the legend of King Lalibela, who is supposed to have traveled 1,600 miles to Jerusalem. “And [Lalibela] came back with an ambitious idea, a vision of creating an African Jerusalem, a black Jerusalem here in the highlands of Ethiopia.”

60 Minutes cameras capture the spectacle of nearly 200,000 Christians massing on the 62-acre site, many holding candles, on Christmas Eve. “This is considered to be a holy place,” says Giorghis. “Coming here as a devout Christian is a very strong sign of their belief… some people travel hundreds of kilometers here on foot and they have been doing it for several centuries,” he tells Pelley.

Watch: Lalibela: A place where faith, mystery and miracles coexist

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