Maryam Tsion, Axum

After the "Axum-virus" has stopped us from visiting this important city twice (first due to a gastro-intestinal virus Mischa caught when we were in Ethiopia last winter and second due to the recent virus which kept us busy for over ten days), now it finally is the right time: we drive to Axum and we even do this on one of the most important celebrations of the Ethiopan Orthodox Church, Maryam Tsion.

At Maryam Tsion the Ethiopians celebrate that Holy Mary seeked refuge from King Herod here in Axum with young Jesus.

Also, Axum is one of the most important cities and sites for Ethiopians and Ethiopia as a nation in general. Between roundabout 400 BC and 700 AC, Axum was the capital of the Axumite kingdom, reaching far into Sudan and southern Arabia, with trade routes going as far as Italy, Syria and India, it being one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient world.


An overview on the Axum stelae.


This stela is 33,3m long, weighs 517 tons and is the largest manmade monolith of the antique world ... it seems that it broke when people tried to erect it first time.


This is the second largest stela in Axum (24m, 152 tons), which was stolen in 1937 by the Mussolini government of the then occupying power, Italy, and brought back to Ethiopia in 2005 (as the result of a contract signed in 1947!).


The famous 1800-year-old Axum Stelae are still impressive symbols of power.

Axum is also said to have been the capital of the mysterious kingdom of the queen of Sheba in 1000 BC. Here, another story unfolds to explain the long connection of Ethiopia, Israel and the Jewish faith: the queen of Sheba and one of her noblewomen once went on a long travel from their home in Tigray, Ethiopia, to visit the famous King Solomon in Jerusalem. Apparently, both ladies got a "special gift" from Solomon to take home: both women came back pregnant from that visit and later on would both give birth to sons. These sons, after having grown up, went back to Israel to visit their father. The son of the queen of Sheba, Menilek, being more intelligent, found and recognized his father who then wanted to make him his successor. But, the people did not want him, so he had to leave. Because his father had to send him away back to his home country in Ethiopia, he ordered all families in Israel to give their firstborn son to accompany Menilek.


This small church built by emperor Haile Selassie I. is supposed to keep the Ark of the Covenant brought to Ethiopia by Menilek I.


Menilek being not only intelligent, but also quite rakish, took the famous Ark of the Covenant (a wooden container keeping two tablets of the Law on which Moses wrote down the ten commandments) from his father and brought it to Axum, where today it still is supposed to be kept in a church specially made for it by Emperor Haile Selassie (before it was in the older church nearby). It is guarded by one monk only who also is the only one allowed to see the Ark (no scientific investigation on this matter has been accepted by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church).


Enda Maryam Tsion ... maybe the first Christian church on Ethiopian soil and the place where Menilek I. had the Ark of the Covenant stored after having taken it from his father King Solomon, in Jerusalem.


After this gate, only men are allowed to pass into the courtyard of the church.

The old gate to the church area.


Women praying outside the wall of the church's courtyard facing the Ark of the Covenant.


The kings and emperors of Ethiopia have until the end of the monarchy in 1974 based a main part of their right to power on this Solomonic ancestoral connection which brought them into one line not only with the mysterious queen of Sheba and King Solomon, but also with King David and even Jesus.


By the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God


This connection and prophesies from the Bible (e.g. Zephaniah 3:10 "From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshippers, the daughter of My dispersed ones, shall bring my offering" and Psalm 2 "Yet I set my Holy king on My Holy hill of Zion") then were interpreted by Marcus Garvey in Jamaica in the 1930s to found the Rastafarian religion (the term "Rastafari" coming from Emperor Haile Selassie's title "Ras Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael" when he was governor of Harar) who believe that Halie Selassie was the living god (Jah!).

This shows the deep connection of Ethiopia with both the Jewish religion and Christianity ...



The mosque at Negash ... this small village south of Adigrat being the very place where The Prophet Mohammad sent his wife and children because they were persecuted in Saudi Arabia because of introducing Islam.


But there is also a strong connection with Islam, as the story goes that The Prophet Mohammed, after having been persecuted in Saudi Arabia for introducing the new faith, sent his family to the village of Negash, just a few kilometres south of Adigrat. The site where the Negash mosque is situated today is said to have been the site of the second mosque ever existing and because of that is an important pilgrimage for Muslims not only from Ethiopia.

Thus, even though Ethiopia is geographically so very far away from Europe, Israel and northern Africa, and even was a very isolated country until quite recently, it is still deeply connected with three religions and continents alike.

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