The southern group of churches is found south of symbolic River Jordan and there prevails the following rock-hewn churches and they symbolize “Heavenly Jerusalem”.
Bete Gebriel-Rufael- means “The House of St. Gabriel-Rafael”
These rock hewn churches are twin and they are without any proper original access to these churches and they are disoriented architecturally. The churches do have unique architectural feature on their façade that can’t be seen on the other rock-hewn churches of King Lalibela and that particular feature is the ogive-arch on the niches. Architectural design of ogive arch windows on the niches can be observed exactly towards the front façade, which is the main beauty.
There is subterranean underground water, where many church treasures like crosses, chalices and other treasures were found by archeologists’ digging that had taken place a few decades ago.
There is a wall like structure that is connecting the roof of the churches with footpath and that is the symbolic “Road to Heaven” known locally as “Meferareja”
Some historians argue as if this church was originally used as a secular building for other purpose, other than religious purpose and they reason out it is because of the churches’ absence of proper entrance like the other churches and their disorientation. The church historians claim that King Lalibela has his own reasons not to have made a proper entry or crossing to the church building other than the symbolic “Road to Heaven” that is narrow sloped road for the convenience of teaching Christians that there is only one way to heaven. Since 12th century, we still use a bridge as a means to cross to the church and the bridge is being restored when needed.
The Old-Bethlehem and the Underground Tunnel
The Old-Bethlehem is the place where the clergy prepare ‘Holy Communion’ for the group of churches in the Southern Cluster until the 16th century and they used to transport communion through the famous underground tunnel that stretches 72 meters from Old-Bethlehem to the churches.
Bete Merkorios – means “The House of St. Demetrius”
This church can be reached after having crossed a long underground tunnel from the “Old Bethlehem”, which was a secret tunnel used for secretly transporting the Holy Communion from the “Old Bethlehem” up to the churches in that particular group so that is why there prevails mazes of tunnels that head in different directions of the churches all the way from “Old-Bethlehem”.
The church of Bete Merkorios had been partially collapsed in the 16th century by the earth quake that had occurred then it was abandoned until a new wall was constructed for the remaining part of that collapsed church in the 1980’s then all the treasures, which were taken and kept in other neighboring church in the 16th century had been returned back to this church where they belong.
Bete Amanuel- means “The House of Emmanuel”
It is the only monolithic church from the southern group of churches and it is carefully carved with indentations on its wall, which is a recessed and projected wall form that resembles to the front facade of the obelisks in Axum.
This church is the pen-ultimate work of king Lalibela, which is built just before St. George Church.
Its internal part has three aisles with a basilica floor design and it is the 2nd largest of all other rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. There is a dome over the sanctuary and there prevails an upper floor, which comprises nine rooms that symbolize the number of the nine saints that has given much effort and dedication to the spread of Christianity in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia in the 6th century to preach Christianity and spread it throughout the land of Ethiopia and King Lalibela wanted to commemorate them. There is a barrel vault over the nave at the central aisle. The nine saints in the 6th century are known for having taught monastic life to Ethiopian Christians as monasticism had been new tradition at the time and they have made monasteries as center of education.
Externally, there are three rows of windows and they differ from one another when seen in row. Windows of the same row have similarity in their design and architecture.
Bete Aba Libanos- means “House of Father Libanos“
This particular church is carved out from the side of the cliff like that of Petra of Jordan and the church walls are detached from the surrounding rock except the roof of the church, which is still attached with the natural rock.
It was carved to commemorate the roman saint (Aba Libanos) who had been in that particular area of Lalibela to preaching and teaching of Christianity centuries before the Zagwe Dynasty’s Era. And the Holy arks in the names of Aba Libanos and St. Maskal Kibra (the queen who had been canonized by the church as saint by the Ethiopian Church is kept in this particular church) and there is a tradition that King Lalibela’s wife whose name is Queen Maskal Kibra has not known about the church carving works of King Lalibela (Her Husband) and it was after she mysteriously followed him all the way from the place where they live then she saw the king along with the chief carvers carrying out the carvings of the churches and asked him to carve one in her name and he has ordered his workers to carve one for her and according to tradition the church that he ordered to be carved in her name was carved out overnight by the help of angels, which is an amazing story from legend and some historians call this church as “An Overnight Work of the Angels”.