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Lost Ark Of The Covenant To Be Moved To A New Location - Page 3

Indiana Jones went to a lot of trouble to locate the mythic Ark of the Covenant in the 1981 Steven Spielberg film 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. It would have been a lot quicker, though perhaps not so dramatic, simply to have asked the Ethiopians.

In the first and second pages of this article, I described how the lost Ark of the Covenant, stored in the town of Aksum, in Ethiopia's Tigray province for some hundreds of years, and more recently in the 'Chapel of the Tablet' in the 'St Mary of Zion' complex since the 1960s, was due to be moved to a replacement chapel whilst the roof of the original building is repaired. The first page showed some of the photographs that I had taken during my visit, showing the commencement of work on the replacement chapel. The second page showed how the building exterior had progressed beyond the basic structure to include some of the exterior embellishments.

Now, my local contact in Aksum has sent some exciting news: the replacement chapel for Moses' Ark of the Covenant (yes that's right - its the genuine thing - the same Ark that was used to store the two tablets of the Ten Commandments brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses, and brought to Ethiopia by King Menelik I) is nearing completion. We are privileged to see some more recent photos taken in January 2014, that show how the work on the replacement chapel is progressing, some recent ceremonies as the Chapel is dedicated, and some of the amazing and colorful religious paintings that cover the walls of the inner sanctum within the chapel interior, where the Ark of the Covenant will soon be stored.

This is indeed exciting stuff. The pictures on this page are probably the last chance you will ever have to see the interior of the new 'Chapel of the Tablet', where the Ark of the Covenant will shortly make its home. Why? Because once the Ark has been transferred there, then the rules say that as before in the original chapel, the Ark will be looked after by the keeper of the chapel, and this man - this man alone - will be the only human-being permitted to enter the building and see the Ark. He will remain in the building all the rest of his life, never moving more than 10 feet from the building while he lives. Upon his death, someone else will replace him, accepting the same rules that will bind him to the Ark for all time.

New Chapel of the Tablet in Aksum Ethiopia nears completion - exterior view
New Chapel of the Tablet in Aksum Ethiopia nears completion - exterior view

A lot has happened since the photos on Page-2. The scaffolding, no longer needed, has been taken down, and we have a good view of the ornamental stone cladding that has been added to the exterior, the fine wooden window frames, and their barred windows. The domed roof has been finished now, and a traditional Orthodox Tewahedo Cross has been added at its peak. Workers hurry to complete the final touches to the exterior, so it can be ready for its Ceremony of Dedication.

Workmen finish exterior of New Chapel of the Tablet in Aksum Ethiopia
Workmen finish exterior of New Chapel of the Tablet in Aksum Ethiopia

Here's a useful tool that Indiana Jones didn't have: Google Maps and Google Earth !! I've added a a blue marker so that you can see where the Ark of the Covenant is located, and give some kind of perspective to help place the location of the photos on these pages.

Looking at the satellite view, we can see the large dark dome of the new church of 'St Mary of Zion' at the top of the image. Immediately below that is a lighter rectangular area - this is the roof of the museum, mentioned later. This roof is where the general public are allowed to stand and view the original 'Chapel of the Tablet', which is the small building marked with the blue dot, where the Ark of the Covenant has been housed all these years. Just below that is a large white rectangular roof: this is the old church of 'St Mary of Zion'.

The replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet', where the Ark will be moved to, does not yet appear on the satellite image, but is located just to the right of the original.

The photographs that follow were taken on the 28th of January 2014, and show the dedication ceremony for the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet', led by His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haimanot. One of the few pre-colonial Christian churches of sub-Saharan Africa, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has a membership of between 40 and 45 million people, the majority of whom live in Ethiopia, and is thus the largest of all Oriental Orthodox churches. His Holiness Abune Mathias I is their spiritual leader. 'Abuna' or 'Abune' is a Ge'ez term meaning 'Our father'. Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that originated in Eritrea and the northern region of Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa. It later became the official language of the Kingdom of Aksum and Ethiopian imperial court, and is today the main language used in the liturgy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The majority of people in Ethiopia speak Amharic.

Worshippers outside the new church of 'St Mary of Zion' for Tablet Chapel Dedication Ceremony
Worshippers outside the new church of 'St Mary of Zion' for the 'Chapel of the Tablet' Dedication Ceremony

Here we see a group of worshippers with their heads bent in prayer as the ceremony commences on the southern steps of the new church of 'St Mary of Zion', which was built in the 1960s to a design by Emperor Hailie Selassie. A large banner in the colours of the Ethiopian flag with its central emblem of yellow star on a blue disc has been draped across the front of the church.

Priests and Ritual Umbrellas outside the new church of 'St Mary of Zion'
Priests and Ritual Umbrellas outside the new church of 'St Mary of Zion'

Priests and laymen gather in front of the new church of 'St Mary of Zion' under the shade of large ritual umbrellas, known as 'Tilas'. They are often made of velvet, and are sumptuously embroidered with biblical scenes. The umbrella in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is a symbol of the glory of God that was manifested through Jesus Christ. It also symbolizes God's protection over his flock.

His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haimanot
His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haimanot

In this picture, the gentleman seated in the central chair is the current leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church - his name and title is 'His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haimanot'. He was elected as the 6th Patriarch of Ethiopia on February 28, 2013. He is the successor to the gentleman in black who is standing: his name is Abuna Merkorios. He was the fourth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church elected after the death of Abuna Takla Haymanot in May 1988. Merkorios remained Patriarch for three years until 1991. He normally lives in exile in the United States. The gentleman in black who is seated to the right of the photograph is named Abune Esayas: he is the previous leader of the Axum Orthodox Church.

His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haimanot
His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haimanot

 

Procession to the replacement Chapel of the Tablet assembles
Procession to the replacement Chapel of the Tablet assembles

The procession to the replacement Chapel of the Tablet begins. Here we see a view from the back row of pews as the procession assembles behind a golden banner topped with traditional silver cross.

His Holiness Abune Mathias passes Museum of Ethiopian Crowns
His Holiness Abune Mathias passes Museum of Ethiopian Crowns

Here we see His Holiness Abune Mathias I walking from the new church of 'St Mary of Zion' at the top of the image to the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'. Behind is a square window with blue bars - this is the church museum, not open to women, that contains an unsurpassed collection of the crowns of former Ethiopian rulers. The collection may be moved to the new museum near the Northern Stellae Field, when it opens.

Ras Sadiki-I Igziabheur
Ras Sadiki-I Igziabheur

This gentleman, wearing a religious robe, is named Ras Sadiki-I Igziabheur. He was the chief fund-raiser for the chapel replacement project and has donated over 2 million ETB for its construction.(See video from 14:30 for his speech).Ras Sadiki-I is an artiste/musician originally from Montserrat, and is the only person in history known to have been baptized by a Guardian Monk of the Ark of the Covenant. The Guardian Monk has taken him under his wings as a friend and a son.

Dedication procession waits in front of the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'
Dedication procession waits in front of the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'

The other members of the procession for the dedication of the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet' wait outside as the leaders go inside to view the fabulous artworks, and bless the interior and exterior of the chapel with olive branches.

Dedication plaque outside the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet' at Aksum Ethiopia
Dedication plaque outside the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet' was unveiled and blessed by Abune Mathias I

This photograph shows the Dedication Plaque outside the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'. The title is written in the Ge'ez language, and tells us that this chapel is literally 'The Door of Heaven' - in other words, the entrance of Heaven. The rest of the text is written in Amharic, and tells us that the building was begun in June 2010 by Abune Paulos(1935 2012), who was the Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haymanot, Archbishop of Axum and one of the seven serving Presidents of the World Council of Churches. The plaque also tells about the donations that various bodies have given for the building of the chapel, and then relates the opening ceremony, which it calls a 'graduation ceremony', presided over by Abune Mathias I on the 28th of January 2014.

This tablet was unveiled and blessed by His Holiness Abune Mathias I in the dedication ceremony, which can be seen in the embedded video at the bottom of this page, starting at 31:44. The video then shows interior shots of the chapel (from 32:05), and scenes as Abune Mathias blesses the walls of the chapel with an olive branch, holy water and holy oil, both inside and out.

Guardian of the Ark of the Covenant: Abba Tesfa Mariam
Guardian of the Ark of the Covenant: Abba Tesfa Mariam

A rare photo of the guardian of the Ark, Abba Tesfa Mariam. He does not normally wish to be photographed. When I met him personally and had a brief interview with him, I respected his wishes, so was very pleased to receive this image of him later on.

Panels 4 and 1 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'
Panels 4 and 1 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'

The next five photos show the interior of the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet', and the colourful and beautiful artworks that cover all surfaces of the inner sanctum where the Ark of the Covenant will shortly be located to. The scenes on the structure that will house the Ark depict various Biblical stories, and relate how the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia by King Menelik.

In the first panel, on the first row, we see the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:16), and the the Holy family leaving Bethlehem (Luke 2:22). On the second row we see Moses commanding the waters of the Red Sea to part (Exodus 14:21), then closing them again to stop the Egyptian army following them (Exodus 14:26). The third row shows Moses providing Manna (bread) from heaven (Exodus 16:4), and striking a rock to provide water (Exodus 17:5).

Panels 1 and 2 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'
Panels 1 and 2 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'

To the left of this photograph can be seen a large cross of Jesus - one of two identical crosses that were later raised under a covering picture of the Trinity inside the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet' (see video at 39:40).

Panel 2 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'
Panel 2 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'

In the second panel, on the first row, we see the baptising of Jesus by John the Baptist (Luke 3:21), and Jesus at the Last Supper with his Disciples (Luke 22:7). The second row shows Moses on top of Mount Sinai, receiving the Ten Commandments on the two tablets of stone (Exodus 34:1), and the scene when he returned to the base of the mountain to find that the children of Israel, fed up of waiting for forty days and forty nights, had decided that something happened to Moses, and compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf (Exodus 32:15). The third row shows Moses' staff turning into a snake (Exodus 4:4) and the carrying of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

Panels 3 and 4 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'
Panels 3 and 4 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'

In the third panel, on the first row, we see the Crucifiction of Jesus, and his resurection from the dead. On the second row we see the Battle of Jericho, where the Ark of the Covenant is carried around the city of Jericho for seven days (Joshua 6:1), and the Ark being carried to the Temple of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5:2). The third row shows King Menelik I, the son of King Solomon, carrying the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia, and finally an image of its current resting-place in the first 'Chapel of the Tablet', here in Aksum.

Panel 3 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'
Panel 3 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'

In this closer view, you can make out a detailed carving of an angel above the central door that covers a window in the side of the Inner Sanctum.

Panel 4 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'
Panel 4 of the Inner Sanctum in the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'

I haven't got a clear photograph of the fourth panel, the one that houses the entrance door to the inner sanctum, so have made a composite from two earlier images, so you can get an idea of what it contains. Occupying the whole of the first row we see the Holy Trinity, where the figures, in Ethiopian art, are always portrayed as identical. Orthodox Christians believe that the Holy Trinity is three, distinct, divine persons (hypostases), without overlap or modality among them, who share one divine essence uncreated, immaterial and eternal. On the second row we see Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8), and the subsequent banishment of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:23). The third row shows Moses with the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1), which can still be seen in the Monastery of St Catherine, at the base of Mount Sinai, and finally the scene where Moses goes to the Pharaoh of Egypt to ask him to let his people go (Exodus 5:1).

Exterior of the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'
Exterior of the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet'

A final view of the replacement 'Chapel of the Tablet', which shows a small crowd of privileged worshippers waiting patiently outside as the final stages of the blessing ceremonies are completed.

Note: larger versions of these images, plus many more from Aksum and Mount Sinai, are all available for licensing - please Contact me for details.

In the video, after a brief introduction showing the new Aksum Museum, we see details of the Ceremony of the 28th of January 2014, when thousands gathered in Aksum to witness the arrival of their spiritual leader, His Holiness Abune Mathias I. The soundtrack is mainly in Amharic, though there are occasional passages in English, and some English subtitles. There is a short speech in English by Abune Mathias from 25:00 to thank Ras Sadiki-I, who was the major fund-raiser for this project.

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St. Georges Rock-Cut Church at  Lalibela in Ethiopia
St. Georges Rock-Cut Church at Lalibela in Ethiopia

Discover more of Ethiopia's wonders by visiting the St. Georges Rock-Cut Church page.

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