This Zagwe site, named after the saint-king Yǝmrǝḥannä Krǝstos, lies 12 km due north of Lalibela – half a day’s journey on foot across the mountain, but an hour by car on a more circuitous route, followed by a 15-minute climb up a steep path. It lies at around 2700 m above sea level on thickly wooded slopes leading up to Mount Abunä Yosef. The site consists of a large cave, some 50 m wide, containing two built structures – the basilica church and the ‘palace’ or ‘treasury’ – as well as the king’s tomb (and two smaller tombs) and a large assemblage of bones and naturally mummified corpses believed to be the remains of monks and pilgrims to the site.
The church has the ‘layer-cake’ appearance of late-Aksumite buildings, caused by its alternating courses of stone and timber. It is covered by a dome over the sanctuary and a saddleback roof over the nave. Radiocarbon dating done by Dr Mengistu Gobezie suggests an11th–12th century date for the church and palace. The church interior is covered with paintings in a style that is significantly different from that of the other churches investigated in this project.