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更新时间:2017-10-17 11:34:29 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Ethiopia's miraculous underground churches

I have always questioned God’s existence, but in the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela, I was presented with fairly substantial evidence.


Officially Christian since 330AD, Ethiopia claims to be the oldest Christian country in the world. And despite being ravaged by poverty, faith has remained strong over the centuries; Lalibela’s medieval rock-hewn churches are clear proof of that.

埃塞俄比亚从公元 330 年正式成为基督教国家,并自称为世界上最古老的基督教国家。几个世纪以来,尽管人们备受贫困之苦,但他们的信仰依然坚定;拉利贝拉中世纪的岩石教堂就是最好的证明。

Each of the 11 monolithic structures is dramatically stamped into the mountainous landscape, plunging 40 to 50m into the Earth and pierced with cross-shaped chiselled openings to let sunlight into the hollowed-out interior.


There are several theories surrounding the creation of these extraordinary places of worship. Some believe they were carved by the Knights Templar, Christian crusaders who, during the 13th Century when the churches were created, were at the height of their power. But there’s no concrete evidence of their involvement.

关于这些非凡的宗教场所的由来,众说纷纭。有人认为,它们是由基督教十字军圣殿骑士团(Knights Templar)在 13世纪雕刻而成,那时他们正处于权力的巅峰。但是,并没有确凿证据可以证明他们曾参与其中。

The most heavily circulated hypothesis – and the one propagated by the small museum near the entrance to the churches – is that they were hewn under the orders of King Lalibela, emperor of Ethiopia during the late 12th and early 13th Centuries, who is said to have visited Jerusalem in 1187BC just before the Holy City fell to Muslim forces. King Lalibela built these churches around Ethiopia’s own stretch of the Jordan River, his intent being to welcome Christians to a ‘New Jerusalem’.

流传最广的说法是(也是教堂入口附近的小型博物馆所讲述的版本),它们是12世纪末至13世纪初之间由埃塞俄比亚君主拉利贝拉国王(King Lalibela)的下令建造的。据说,国王曾在公元1187年拜访耶路撒冷,也就是圣城被穆斯林攻陷之前。拉利贝拉国王在埃塞俄比亚境内的约旦河附近建造这些教堂,目的是欢迎基督徒前来"新耶路撒冷"。

Yet the museum doesn’t seem to put its heart into pushing this theory; its display of construction tools includes only a fragile adze, an axe-shaped tool that King Lalibela’s workers supposedly used to sculpt the churches from the ground. Even allowing for 900 years of wear, it looked better suited to hooking weeds out of soil than carving rock.


Instead, the thousands of worshippers who attend daily services inside the churches accept a much more divine explanation: that King Lalibela was assisted by an army of angels, who completed the 11 churches in one night.

而成千上万参加教堂礼拜的信众则另有一种更加神奇的解释:拉利贝拉国王在一群天使的帮助下,一夜之间就建成了这 11 座教堂。

From a distance, the only sign of these underground temples is the stream of people flowing in and out of crevices. Visits have to be timed for the moments when congregations ebb, using the intermissions in daily services to negotiate the canyons, sometimes just wide enough for a single person, leading down into the Earth. With my hand against the wall, I slowly descended into the shadows of the churches.


Even between prayer sessions the churches are never empty; elderly worshippers find it easier to stay nearby than negotiate the precarious paths. They watched, leaning inscrutably on prayer sticks, as I unlaced my hiking boots and added them to the small scatter of flip-flops and slippers that lay outside. As I entered Biete Golgotha Mikael, said to be the final resting place of King Lalibela himself, the threadbare red carpet did little to mask the feeling of cool stone on the bottom of my feet. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and a medieval figure took shape – it was St Peter, etched into the wall of New Jerusalem for eternity.

即使在礼拜间隙,教堂里也始终有人;年长的信徒选择待在附近,这比跨越危险的小路要容易许多。他们高深莫测地倚靠着祈祷杖看着我,我脱掉登山鞋,把它们和外面零散的拖鞋放在一起。在我进入据说是拉利贝拉国王长眠之地的 “Biete Golgotha Mikael” 时,破旧的红毯也很难抵挡来自脚下岩石的寒气。我的眼睛逐渐适应了黑暗,眼前出现了一个中世纪人物——圣彼得(St Peter),他被永远雕刻在新耶路撒冷的墙壁上。

Slender paths and tunnels led me from church to church, but one was set apart; of the 11 houses of worship in the complex, Biete Giyorgis, a good long stone’s throw from the main warren of churches, was the most memorable. Its cruciform shape, immaculately buried in gently sloping rock, is topped with an etched Coptic cross that can only be seen from above. Its sheer walls have been tanned bronze over the ages, and plunge 40m into the surrounding chasm. Despite standing open to the elements, the structure is immaculately preserved, wearing its nine centuries with grace.

我沿着细长的小路和隧道在教堂之间穿梭,但是建筑群中有一处与众不同;在11座教堂中,距教堂主区一箭之遥的 Biete Giyorgis 圣乔治教堂最令人难忘。十字形状完美地嵌入微微倾斜的岩石,上面雕刻的科普特十字架只能从顶部才能看到。陡峭的石壁被岁月染成铜褐色,延伸进入周围40米深的裂口中。尽管历经9个多世纪的风吹日晒,这个建筑仍保存完好,优雅依旧。

Not all the churches have fared as well. Biete Medhane Alem, accepted as the largest monolithic church in the world, is sheltered from the elements by a rather clunky slab of Unesco-issued sheet metal to prevent further erosion. And the walls of the Biete Abba Libanos feature a few alarming cracks.

并非所有的教堂都能如此幸运。Biete Medhane Alem 被认为是世界上最大的独石教堂,为了避免其继续遭到风吹日晒的侵蚀,联合国教科文组织在其周围覆盖巨大的金属板。而 Biete Abba Libanos 的墙壁已经出现了一些令人担忧的裂痕。

Upon noticing these hints of decay, I had my doubts about the churches’ divine origins: surely if the churches of Lalibela had been built by angels, they would all still be in perfect condition.


But as I emerged from the carved channel that led to Biete Giyorgis, I realised it didn’t matter how the churches came to be. Far below, a new wave of visitors were passing through the church's towering stone entryways, lintels that have been worn smooth by the footfall of centuries. They descended into the Earth, disappearing into the darkness cast by the monoliths and emerging again, having passed through the structures, to climb back up towards the sunlight. At the edge of the crevices, young men helped elderly worshippers navigate the sloping trails. I lingered for several minutes to watch the seemingly never-ending stream of pilgrims return above ground. They believed, and that was enough.