The church of Yemerhana Krestos – or Yemerha in its abridged form – is located some 42kms by road North of Lalibela in the massif of Abune Yosef. According to the Ethiopian tradition it was built by the saintly Zagwe King Yemerhana Kirstos between 1087-1127 A.D. The kings Gadl (Hagiography) describes in a considerable detail the circumstance of its construction and decoration and can be used as a reliable source. The building is three-aisle basilica built of wood and stone imitated the Aksumite architecture, extensively decorated with wood and stucco carving, and wall painting which are the oldest murals so-far known Ethiopia. Today what is left on this capital is his palace and a church, which is still being used by the local population and the occasional pilgrim.
The church is located at the mouth of a natural cave with spectacular views eastward into the surrounding valleys. The palace is placed alongside it, at an angle, some 16 meters to the west. The site was chosen because the cave, despite its elevation at 2600 meters over sea level, had a remarkable feature-a natural lake. All that needed to be done was to shore up the edges of the lake with foundations to support the two buildings and to seal off the space between the buildings with a floor. The floor, which still exists, was made of heavy and durable olive wood beams, with access to the water below provided by a trap door just in front of the church.