In the year 1187 AD, the Saracen commander commonly known as Saladin laid siege to the city of Jerusalem of Judea, causing its surrender to him in early October of that year. At the time of the siege and sacking of the city, there were some Ethiopian pilgrims present in Jerusalem who witnessed all that had happened to this destination of their pilgrimage.
In fairness to Saladin, in his conquest of Jerusalem, the Muslim warrior attempted to take control of the city with spilling as little blood as possible. This was in great contrast to the methods of the Crusaders of 1099, when they had captured the city at that time. The history of that specific siege by the Crusaders is written with great quantities of the blood of the victims.
Cristofano dell'Altissimo, ante 1568
But Saladin, with his own capture of Jerusalem, did not slaughter all whom he found within the city gates. He instead granted conditions of surrender for those inside. Part of these conditions included a provision for any who wished to leave instead of remaing under his command. These people would be required to pay a ransom, with which they could earn their own release.
When it was found that some of the residents could not pay the price of the ransom, Saladin allowed the amount to become negotiable. Still other ransoms were paid from the city treasury (which, one could say, Saladin could have easily seized anyway). Yet other captives were simply given their freedom without any payment at all. Some of those set free under one of these conditions were apparently the pilgrims from Ethiopia.
When these Ethiopian pilgrims returned to their homeland, the brought with them the news of the fall of Jerusalem. Again, to repeat the year that this happened, it occurred in 1187 AD.
I repeat the year because that also is the year that Lalibela the man began his reign in Ethiopia: 1187 AD. You may call this a coincidence of history or you may call it providence, but that was the year that the then Emperor Lalibela began his work on the city that was to become known by his own name – the worship center of Lalibela, Ethiopia.
Of course, there is much about when the actual construction of the churches began that is unknown, and much of it open to the interpretation of historical evidence. However, it was at that time that the Emperor Lalibela saw the great need for a center of pilgrimage, and it was at that time when the development of the city was initiated in earnest.
I will begin to tell you a little about the city as it was when I visited it on this trip to see my son Levi, who is living in Ethiopia, but that will be in the next post.