- The Zagwe Dynasty: 1137-1270 [17]

The emperors who ruled from 1137-1270 belong the Zagwe Dynasty. A minimum of seven emperors four of whom were sanctified were members of this dynasty. Some historians believe that the succession  of emperors was from brother to brother. The most famous among these emperors is Gebre Mesquel Lalibela (St. Lalibela).  Since Muslims governed Jerusalem after 711, and Edessa fell in 1144, Emperor Lalibela (1141-1181 ?) of the Zagwe Dynasty raised in his imagination the Holy places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, north of the Jordan River, and Mount Tabor south of the same river. He, then, renamed a river at Adefa as Yordanos Wenz (for River Jordan in which Christ was baptized) and built rock- hewn churches at Adafa, now known as Lalibela, as a way of preserving the Holy site. He changed the name Adefa to Roha, which is the Syraic name of Edessa.

Beyond carving churches out of rock, Emperor Lalibela interleaved wood with rocks in the walls of some of his Churches- an Aksumite architectural style. Deep tunnels were constructed to hall away rock pieces that are produce during the carving of rock- hewn churches . Clearly, Lalibela had elaborate designs before he began his work that lasted over a couple of decades. The St. George rock-hewn church is entered as "The Eighth Wonder of the World."  Before Lalibela , the priest king, Emperor Yemrhana Kristos had constructed a rock-hewn Church north of Adefa.

Curiously, some people believe that one of the last emperors of the Zagwe Dynasty, Harbe who sent an Ethiopian embassy to Rome, which was at that time governed by the French from Avigno, might have an input to what the Roman authorities implemented. Shortly after the visit by the embassy, on October 13, 1273, the Knights Templar were rounded up in France and other regions of the Western Roman Empire and many of them were put to death. This is the origin of the superstition associated with the phrase Friday the 13th.

Even more curiously, a Knights Templar, Prince Henry of Portugal, who assembled ships and employed sailors in search of fame and fortune, was instrumental in supporting Vaso da Gama's voyage to India. The son of Vasco de Gama, Christopher da Gama came to Ethiopia with 400 soldiers to support the Ethiopian Christian kingdom against a Jihad waged by Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim al-Gazi (aka Ahmed Gragn, 1529-1543), who was supported by the Ottoman Empire.

It is widely thought that the priest kings of the Zagwe Dynasty likely were the reason for the Prester John story that impressed westerns. The Portuguese embassy (1520-1526) that came to Ethiopia in search of the home of Prester John was instrumental in

documenting the splendor of the inner decoration of churches shortly before, Ahmed Gragn demolished some of them in his jihad against Christian Ethiopia.

Aksumite-Ethiopia style land-use and internal trade practiced in the prosperous  Aksumite erawas likely employed during the Zagwe Dynasty.


HG: Revised 1/1/2010





Gene Sharp for nonviolent movement

Rubicon is crossed


Joint UEDF-CUD press release of July 2005