Biete Maryam

Biete Maryam


Inspiring creative writing through travel and photography

 Biete Maryam

(All photos taken by Kafula Mwila: )

On the 28th of July annually the people gather in the courtyard of Biete Maryam (House of Mary) to celebrate the Day of the Virgin Mary. Men and women gather around the priests and monks who lead in the prayers that are punctuated with chants, clinging of bells and playing of the kebero by the deacons. The men form the inner circle and sit on a carpeted section of the yard, while the women form the outer section. After the morning prayers, there is the Holy Communion, in which both men and women partake.

Biete Maryam is one of the monolithic churches in the first cluster of eleven rock hewn churches. It is said that it could have been the first to be constructed. Among all the churches that the Priest King Lalibela constructed, it is the only one with remarkable interior décor of paintings and engravings of religious symbols and how the King envisioned heaven. The church has two floors, the upper floor is not in use any more, but it was called the seven windows of heaven, where monks would meet to hold special prayers. The church has two side entrances and one in the front. The windows were carved to symbolise man’s life here on earth in relation to his journey to the world beyond.

The rear of Biete Maryam has many windows, each symbolic of the spiritual world and man’s journey here on earth and into the spirit world

The top three windows (horizontal) represent the Holy Trinity. In the middle from top to bottom are the three main crosses:  the top most is the Latin Cross, beneath it is the Cross of Lalibela followed by the Cross of St. George. The crosses represent man’s link to the Holy Trinity. However it is important to note that there are windows on either side of the crosses. On the left the upper window represents man, who if he does not follow the path of God will descend into Hell ( represented by the window below) and if he follows the path of God will ascend into heaven as shown in the windows on the right. Inside the church are two sitting areas and the Holy of Holies, into which only the monk and priests can enter. The men and women do not sit in the same area; there is a section for women while the men occupy the center of the church.

Close up on the 3 crosses carved in the back wall of Biete Maryam

Original art work inside the church, this was done mainly on the ceiling and on the pillar.

Kebero, a special drum played by the deacon. The 2 sides represent the Old (bigger side) & New Testaments


Inside Biete Maryam, the Most Holy place behind the curtain is preserved for the Priest

Biete Maryam has a fertility pool outside in the yard. The water of the 12 meter deep pool is said to cure infertility. The House of Mary is one of the biggest churches. There is a lot more to see inside the church and one can only marvel at the incredible art work that has been preserved to this day.

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