by Sandor Carter
Bizarre as it sounds, the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant may be a village in northern Ethiopia.
The Ark is a sacred object in Ethiopia. Every year, at Timkat, held on the Orthodox feast of Epiphany, models of the Ark are carried in procession through the streets and symbolically baptized. Every church has a model of the Ark for this annual event.
It’s a vibrant and crazy time. The huge crowds dress in white clothes and carry colored umbrellas.
The story goes that the original ark was rescued from the Temple of Solomon and carried up the Blue Nile. According to one version, it was brought by men with red hair — some people suggest that’s an allusion to the Knights Templar.
The Ark is reputed to have come to rest in a tiny white-washed church called the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in the village of Axum in the north of the country.
The whole structure is surrounded by a fence. No one is allowed in, and the single priest who lives there is not allowed out. He is called Gebra Mikail. He must be in his 60s now — a tall, lean, fine-featured man. It's said that when the previous guardian died, Gebra Mikail ran away because he didn’t want the tough job of being sequestered in the church grounds for the rest of his life.
I first met him over ten years ago and I asked him through an interpreter if the Ark of the Covenant was really inside. Naturally enough, he said it was. Who really knows? The romantic side of me wants to believe that something that can destroy entire armies sits in a tiny church in a dusty village in Africa.