Wukro Medhane Alem: A Medieval Rock-hewn Church in Historic Gondar, Ethiopia
Keywords:Ethiopia, Ethiopian church, history, rock-hewn churches, Wukro Medhane Alem church
This study explores the historical and architectural heritage of Wukro Medhane Alem, a least-known monolithic rock-hewn church in South Gondar. Primary and secondary sources of the study were collected through fieldwork, interviews, and literature review. The study shows that it is one of the medieval churches traditionally attributed to King Lalibela (r. 1181-1221). The hypogeum has a rectangular plan being deeply excavated out of bedrock. There is a built-up feature added over the roof's edge of the rock-hewn church. It imitates a Gondarine architectural tradition, implying the transition from the earlier rock-hewn tradition to the building architectural orientation of the Gondarine period (1636-1769). Its hypogeum reflects an Aksumite and medieval architectural tradition. Internally, the basilica is partitioned into kine mahilet (chanting), kiddist (holy) and mekides or kiddiste kiddusan (sanctuary) rooms through the arranged rock-hewn pillars, which are refined with arches, capitals, and entablatures that create the ceiling of the roof which is also decorated with engraved cruciform, geometrical, quadrifoliate, and crown-like protruding features. The kiddiste kiddusan has six sub-sanctuaries with doubled circular domed roofs and rectangular altars cut from the main rock. The hypogeum, thus, has such potential values to be promoted as an alternative tourist site in historic Gondar, which is mainly known to tourists for its built palaces.
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