Impressed by eleven rock-carved churches, Alvarez described the political centre of the Zagwe dynasty Roha, which was renamed after the "Negus Negest" Gebre Mesquel Lalibela (1167-1207). According to legend, the emperor got the instruction from God himself to replicate on earth what he had seen in heaven, after being venomed by his half-sister. A more mundane explanation assumes that the project was stimulated by the seizure of Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187 where Lalibela reportedly sojourned in his youth.
This is the setting for Ledet, the orthodox Christmas. Thousands of worshippers from all over Ethiopia are going on a pilgrimage to Lalibela
, even on foot from remote valleys. Ceremonies are starting the two preceding nights with sounds of prayers, chants, clapping, bugling and bell-ringing which are pervading the entire complex. The climax is reached at dawn on January 7 in the compound of Beta Maryam when priests bring out the Taboat as a symbol for the Ark of the Covenant which comprises the 10 commandments.