Across the road was the Cathedral of Tsion Maryam complex.
The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (Amharic: ርዕሰ አድባራት ቅድስተ ቅዱሳን ድንግል ማሪያም ፅዮን Re-ese Adbarat Kidiste Kidusan Dingel Maryam Ts'iyon) is the most important church in Ethiopia, and claims to contain the Ark of the Covenant. It is located in the town of Axum in the Tigray Province. The original church is believed to have been built during the reign of Ezana, the first Christian emperor of Ethiopia, during the 4th century AD, and has been rebuilt several times since then.
Since its founding during the episcopacy of Frumentius (known in Ethiopia as Abune Selama Kesatay Birhan or "Our Father of Peace the Revealer of Light") the Church of Mary of Zion has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice. Its first putative destruction occurred at the hands of Queen Gudit during the 10th century. Its second, confirmed, destruction occurred in the 16th century at the hands of Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, after which it was rebuilt by the Emperor Gelawdewos, then further rebuilt and enlarged by Fasilides during the 17th century.
St. Mary of Zion was the traditional place where Ethiopian Emperors came to be crowned. And indeed, if an Emperor was not crowned at Axum, or did not at least have his coronation ratified by a special service at St. Mary of Zion, he could not be referred to by the title of "Atse".
In the 1950s the Emperor Haile Selassie built a new modern Cathedral that was open to both men and women next to the old Cathedral of Our Lady Mary of Zion. The old church remains accessible only to men, as Mary, symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant allegedly resting in its chapel, is the only woman allowed within its compound.
The church is a significant center of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, especially during the main Festival of Zion Maryam on 30 November (21 Hidar on the Ethiopian calendar).
St. Mary of Zion claims to contain the original Ark of the Covenant. Reportedly, the Ark was moved to the Chapel of the Tablet adjacent to the old church because a divine 'heat' from the Tablets had cracked the stones of its previous sanctum. Emperor Haile Selassie's wife, Empress Menen, paid for the construction of the new chapel.
According to tradition, the Ark came to Ethiopia with Menelik I after he visited his father King Solomon. Only the guardian monk may view the Ark, in accordance with the Biblical accounts of the dangers of doing so for non-Kohanim. This lack of accessibility, and questions about the account as a whole, has led foreign scholars to express doubt about the veracity of the claim. The guardian monk is appointed for life by his predecessor before the predecessor dies. If the incumbent guardian dies without naming a successor, then the monks of the monastery hold an election to select the new guardian. The guardian then is confined to the chapel of the Ark of the Covenant for the rest of his life, praying before it and offering incense. Thanks Mr Wikipedia.
At the small church museum we had to lock our bags and cameras in a locker and then was hand wand scanned to make sure we weren’t taking in anything that we should not be! I hope that someday a much better museum will be built to better display the treasures of former Ethiopian rulers’ ancient crowns, gold and silver chalices, crosses, garments / robes, jewellery, drums and other church relics contained here. It clearly demonstrates the immense wealth of the Church. Yes, it is in a temporary home.
Into the new Cathedral of Our Lady Mary of Zion, built by Emperor Haile Selassie in the 1960s for the females. Beside it is a disproportionately tall bell tower, no doubt inspired by the neighbouring stelae, sprouts heavenwards. What a change from the rock churches that we had visited over the last couple of weeks.
Cathedral of Tsion Maryam
Friday, January 09, 2015
Axum, Tigray, Ethiopia