National Geographic : 1970 Dec
Maryam on the heights overlooking Lalibala. I was remembered from an earlier visit, but Roger Schneider, the Luxembourg Oriental ist who was with me at the time, was not allowed to enter, though he represented the Ethiopian Archeological Institute. Normally a patient man but now some what unnerved, Roger walked around the little church tapping the walls and telling the priest they would collapse and destroy the precious paintings within. There then ensued this surrealistic conversation: Priest: "There are no paintings here." Roger: "Aha! You stripped them and sold them. My friend here has seen them. He's been inside." Priest: "Naturally. After all, he's an arch bishop." Gerster: "This news of my promotion from the laity is pleasing to me. Now will you open the church?" Priest: "No, but I'll do so when you come bearing signs of your office." If sometimes I found frustration in the high country, and even danger, I also found beau ty, and peace, and warm friends. Never did I tire of the landscape with its tangled ravines filled with inky shadows, gaping wounds torn in the land by once-roaring rivers; the windy plateaus checkered with green fields of young grain and yellow patches of nug, a relative of (Continued on page 877) wood-and-stone "sandwich" style of construction (page 881); scaffolding aids restoration. Lalibala's population of 9,000 triples on religious holidays, when trade and gossip inter sperse the festivities. The church is one of 11 rock sanctuaries built by 12th-century King Lalibala in response-says local legend-to a divine command and with the aid of angels.