Biete Medhane Alem (house of the saviour of the world) is an Orthodox underground monolith rock-cut church located in Lalibela, Ethiopia. It was built during the Zagwe dynasty. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Lalibela.
Resembling a massive Greek temple more than a traditional Ethiopian church, Bet Medhane Alem is impressive for its size and majesty. Some scholars have suggested it may have been a copy in rock of the original St Mary of Zion church in Aksum.
Biete Medhane Alem is the largest monolithic rock-hewn church in the world, measuring 11.5m in height and covering an area of almost 800m2.
The building is surrounded by 34 large, rectangular columns (many are replicas of the originals). The three jointed at each corner are thought to represent the Holy Trinity. The interior consists of a barrel-vaulted nave and four aisles with 38 columns supporting the gabled roof. The three empty graves in one corner are said to have been prepared symbolically for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. On Sundays worshipers come hoping to be blessed or healed by the famous 7kg gold Lalibela Cross.
According to lonelyplanet