Today, 19th June / Senay 12, is known as Senay Mikael and is an important Saint’s day across the country. But in Lalibela it is the most important holy day in Lalibela after Gena, for it is the anniversary of the death 796 years ago, of the Saint-King Lalibela, whose name the town has taken. He is said to have died in 1221 and is renown as the architect of the amazing labyrinth of rock hewn churches which are the focus of the town of Lalibela, formerly known as Roha.
Most sources available on the internet are vague on when was King Lalibela born and how long he lived. Entries from the late Richard Pankhurst and other well researched entries such as museums are vague about his year of birth often preferring to give his dates as late 12th
Century and early 13th Century. Others only really agree about his reign (most agree with 1181-1221). It is often stated that King Lalibela became King and took the thrown name Gebre Meskal (as Ras Tefari took the name Haile Selassie) in 1181. Wikipedia however states that he was born in Roha (the previous name for Lalibela) in 1162 AD and died in 1221 at the age of 58/59. The Dictionary of African Biography notes King Lalibela’s dates as 1150’s to c.1225. It could be that the difference between 1150s (approx 1155) and 1162 would be down to the difference between the western and Ethiopian calendars. The circa 1225 for his death is not out of line with the suggested 1221! It should be noted that in mediaeval times living beyond 40 was probably beyond the average life expectancy and certainly late 50’s was an old man. Few would have lived beyond their early 60s.
His tomb is in the church Golgota which adjoins Beta Mikael
in the main cluster of churches in Lalibela, making this a very special double annual saint’s day. Yesterday on the eve of the big day, there was singing and chanting around Bet Mikael and Golgotta (where the Saint-King is buried) and this morning the two tabots (Mikael and Lalibela) were paraded out to a nearby tent with great pomp and celebration, and an hour or so after returned to the church. There is also an especially big market today full of livestock and other local produce, even though its not the usual Saturday market day.