Bet Giorgis Legend says that when King Lalibela had almost completed the churches of the first two groups, has severely reproached by St. George who in full armour rode up to him on his white horse – for not having constructed a house for him. Lalibela, thereupon, promised the saint the most beautiful church, and St. George apparently supervised the execution of the works in person; at least the monks today still show the hoof-marks of his horse to the visitor.
Indeed, visitors agree in describing the church to be Lalibela’s “most elegant” and “refined” in its architecture and stonemasonry. There is little borrowing from Axum. The cruciform floor plan rather suggests different models, perhaps the cruciform manbers (containers of the tabot) in the Zagwe tradition, an example of which you may have seen already when having been shown the “stool” of Lalibela. Although its floor plan is of a cross with nearly equal arms the church is properly orientated, the main entrance being in the west, the holy of holies in the east.
Basic Cross Patterns in Lalibela
‘Afro Aygeba’ Cross in LalibelaIn the Zagwe sphere a special kind of elongated processional cross has been developed. Lalibela crosses very often have bird heads at the sides and have a crown of stylize'” human figures as symbols of the twelve apostles; the finial cross then represents Christ. Birds (doves) are often depicted together with the cross. The swastika shapes found in Lalibela should not be confused with the old sun symbol found for example in Europe and in India. The Lalibela swastikas were developed from the Greek cross with bent arms and were often combined to form interwoven patterns as was the case in Christian art in the Middle Ages. The priests have developed a rich symbolism, every pattern having a different meaning. Three tipped crosses refer to the Trinity; five incised circles or indentations represent the wounds of Christ. However, these decorative patterns often are interpreted differently according to the schooling of the individual priest.