|mountains and patchwork of fields|
The legend of the Ark of the Covenant plays a hugely significant role in Ethiopian Christianity.
It is the wooden chest which was built by the Children of Israel according to God's very precise instructions, to hold the two stone tablets brought down by Moses from
Mount Sinai, inscribed with the Ten
Commandments. When the Jews settled in Jerusalem,
it was placed in the Temple from where it
disappeared when the
was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Where did it go? And is it in Temple ?
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claim so, that it was brought to Ethiopia
by Menelik I with divine assistance and that it is kept in Axum,
under tight guard in a treasury near the Church of our Lady of Zion. (Menelik I, the first
Solomonic Emperor of Ethiopia, (around 950BC) is traditionally believed to
be the son of King Solomon of ancient Israel and Makeda, ancient Queen of
|arriving in Mekele|
After our day exploring Addis Ababa we are in bed early - some of us by 8pm - ready for the 4.30am wake up call and a full day ahead tomorrow - our flight to Mekele and the eagerly anticipated rock hewn churches of North East Tigrai.
|along the road to Wukro Chirkos|
I set my smart phone and the hotel alarm clock - not content to rely solely on the hotel's own telephone call. I wake up with a jolt convinced I have enjoyed a good night's sleep - only to see it is only 11pm - and I sleep fitfully for the rest of the night. Others in the group describe a similar experience - body clock adjusting? Malaria tablets having weird side effects? Who knows? But somehow or other we are all in the coach by 5.20 am as required and on our way to the airport. Even at this early hour there are scores of people on the streets - walking - always walking - sometimes we wonder where they are all walking to?
I have found
troubling. It is a pulsing
throbbing sea of humanity in all its rich tapestry, suffering and comfort in
close juxtaposition, medium rise office and hotel blocks jostling for space
with far simpler mud homes and shanty town slums, neon lit bars and cafes and
hotels, dust roads and modern highways and a brand new
metro - a city of huge contrasts - and throughout all of this a kind of tacit
acceptance of each other, of each others' place in the scheme of things. There
are a few stray dogs and we pass the Addis Ababa
on the corner of a roundabout under a flyover - seemingly a garden shelter and
sanctuary in the wider hustle and bustle. City
I am so happy to be heading out of the city to the tranquility and beauty of the Ethiopian countryside and all that it has to offer.
|Typical pastoral scene along the road from Mekele|
There is a faint pall of pollution hanging over the high rise part of the city as the plane takes off, incongruous below the cloudless pale blue sky still faintly pink tinged at 7.15am. A mist covers the outskirts of the town, the fields beyond quite green after the recently finished rainy season. As we gain height the mountainous terrain casts deep shadows across the alleys far below. A dry river bed cuts deep between curious flat-topped hills, with multi coloured patchworks of fields on their plateaus. We are soon above 37,000 feet and for a short while a thick fluffy white cloud cover obscures the earth from view.
As we approach Mekele the terrain changes, the rocks below seem pinker, with signs of terracing and two large dams.
|Wukro Chirkos sandstone rock hewn church|
Soon we are landed, reunited with our luggage and setting off in our coach for the fairly long journey to our first destination of the day, Wukro Chirkos, just one of the 150 odd amazing churches literally hewn out of the sandstone rocks in this Tigrai area of Ethiopia. This one is probably one of the most accessible to the tourist - others can be quite challenging to reach. Amazingly these churches were only brought to the attention of the outside world in the early 1900s, and who knows how many are still to be discovered? They are distinctly less touristy than those we will visit later in the week in Lalibela, and it is probably for this reason that they still hold an aura of spirituality and mood that can be lost when the crowds arrive.
|inside the church|
|drum used in the religious ceremony|
Oh how we can destroy those treasures simply by wanting to go and see them for ourselves! I am thankful that our McCabe group is small and we do not dominate our surroundings.