Priests carry a “Tabot” replica of the Ark of the Covenant in the Timket procession. Although the British never colonized Ethiopia, they did loot hundreds of Tabots during a punitive expedition in 1868, an act which still causes great resentment, and the return of one from a church vault in Edinburgh, Scotland, was the cause of great rejoicing in 2002.
Ethiopia – Been There

Searching for the Lost Ark in Ethiopia

Photo by Peter Adams

Ethiopia – Been There Searching for the Lost Ark in Ethiopia

In Axum, I come face to face with a last glory of Ethiopian Christianity: the Ark of the Covenant. OK, not the Ark itself, because I have watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, and have no desire to see my face collapse like a melted waxwork.

Julio Etchart
Julio Etchart

You will recall that the Ark was built to hold the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments and was a weapon of mass destruction against hostile tribes as the Israelites wandered in the desert. Ethiopians believe a small, inconspicuous building here now holds it, while every church in the country holds a replica, although why is a story for a long evening of coffee drinking. No one can see inside except its attendant, a priest who never leaves and whose earthly needs are attended to by a small group of boys, one of whom will take his place when he dies.

Meantime, he prays inside, coming out once in a while to pace the equally small garden, being careful to avoid the cameras of inquisitive outsiders such as myself. I stare at the square, dome-topped, concrete church for a while, but feel or hear no hum of power, merely the noise of traffic as the white Toyota Hiluxes of the aid agencies bustle past. More impressive are the town’s stellae, the largest around 100 feet high and weighing 520 tons, and one of which stood in the middle of Rome until returned in 2005. No-one knows what they are for – grave markers is the most likely explanation – but the carvings of doors and windows on their sides conjure up incongruous thoughts of skyscrapers.

However, I find myself drawn to the “Queen of Sheba’s Bath”, a step-sided reservoir that is setting for Old Testament scenes. Women in bright robes and white headscarves squat to draw containers of water, which they load onto the shoulders of their bareheaded daughters. Meanwhile, the young boys plunge into the water, screaming with delight, as old men sit around quietly chatting, perhaps remembering the time they too did the same. That the women’s containers are of bright yellow plastic, rather than goatskin, seems the only concession to the modern world. Truly, history lives on in the heart of Ethiopia.

Earn money by using your travel knowledge to help your friends, family, and other travelers book the best hotels. Learn more about becoming a TRVL Agent!

013-bbkpp2 Ethiopia

As a part of the Timkat ceremony, youths jump into the “Queen of Sheba’s Pool” in Axum, where the fabled queen is said to have once bathed. This town in northern Ethiopia was the capital of the former kingdom of Axum that ruled the region for six centuries from 400BCE. Photo by Gilad Flesch / Alamy

Gilad Flesch

Gilad Flesch

Agency
Alamy

As a part of the Timkat ceremony, youths jump into the “Queen of Sheba’s Pool” in Axum, where the fabled queen is said to have once bathed. This town in northern Ethiopia was the capital of the former kingdom of Axum that ruled the region for six centuries from 400BCE.

Other stories about Ethiopia