I CAN’T BELIEVE WE FOUND IT!!! Apparently the lost Arc of the Covenant has been in Aksum for quite some time. Last weekend we went to Aksum, which is about as far north as you can go and still be in Ethiopia. Eritrea, just north of Ethiopia, was once part of a vast empire ruled by the Queen of Sheba. This massive area was called the Kingdom of Saba and includes Yemen across the Red Sea from Eritrea. Saba was inhabited by the ancient Sabean people and is considered the oldest civilization. We all know the story of the Queen of Sheba (Makeda) who traveled to Jerusalem to meet the wise King Solomon, bringing with her a huge caravan of gifts for the king. What the Bible doesn’t tell us is that Makeda and Solomon got along very well. In fact, they got along so well that Menelik was born nine months later. Menelik later became the first emperor of Ethiopia around the 10th century BC.
Legend has it that Menelik went to see his father as a young adult and stole the Arc of the Covenant to bring it to Ethiopia along with the original Ten Commandments. Actually, these were copies of the tablets because Moses smashed the original ones when he returned from the top of Mount Sinai because everyone was misbehaving (review the scene with Charlton Heston for details). King Solomon started to raise an army to retrieve the Arc, but had a dream where God told him, “Let it go”.
Aksum is believed to be the Queen of Sheba’s home, but she had more than one home. Her 12,000 year-old palace in Aksum was destroyed but is being rebuilt around the original steps and location where the throne once stood. The pan for her shower is also still visible with a spillway to the exterior of the building.
Sometimes the Queen just wanted to take a bath, so she went to her private bathtub about a mile from her palace.
According to legend, Aksum is home to the Arc of the Covenant. It is protected in the basement of the Church of Our Lady of Zion by a single monk. The monk is chosen by his colleagues as being the one most close to God. He stays in the chapel for his entire life; this monk is the only one allowed access to the Arc. The chapel is in the center of a compound of Ethiopian Orthodox churches. Each day worshippers gather at the church and follow the priest around the compound three times praying and chanting. They then gather at the front of the church kissing the hand of the priest ending the day’s fasting period and then sharing food that they brought from home. Click the link to view a video of the event
Aksum Parade Around Church. Because it is Lent, many Ethiopians worship by fasting 55 days. This means no food or drink before 3PM and no animal products for the entire time. Inside these churches are 1200 year-old Bibles written in Ge’ez with spectacular illustrations. There are about 500 pages, each made from the skin of one goat.
The entire Aksum area is steeped in history and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 1000 ancient obelisks are around 1600 years old and the newest and most famous one weighs 160 tons and reaches a height of 80 feet. It is an ornately chiseled sculpture and it was the culmination of years of learning as evidenced by the surrounding older, smaller and less ornate buildings. One of the newer ones fell during erection because the foundation was insufficient support or because the erection process stressed the stone structure excessively. The most impressive of the structures is now supported by modern steel supports because it is showing signs of weakness.
Aksum was the site for coronating kings subsequent to Menelik, and many had their own palaces nearby. Underground tombs were once filled with gold and jewels, in addition to the royal corpse. These structures were made from stones cut to fit and hauled from the quarry 6 kilometers away. The roof stones were massive pieces spanning between walls. It was hard to imagine how this stone work was accomplished without the aid of modern machinery, or even with it! These ancient tombs are open for viewing and it is quite eerie to be standing where ancient kings once laid.