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    Searching for the Ark of the Covenant

    December 14th, 2006 by mary

    Little known fact to us was that the Ark of the Covenent passed through Ethiopia and is said to rest in Axum. Before searching for it, we spent a couple days in Bahir Dar at the southern tip of Lake Tana, which makes Tahoe look like a puddle.
    On islands and surrounding pennisulas are a bunch of ~12th-14th century monasteries installed to protect the Christians of the day when Islam began to threaten their existance. We jumped into a tiny boat to brave the very rough seas and see a few of these monasteries that have now mostly been converted into churches. The first monastery was on a penninsula across the lake from us. On our way there we passed a slightly larger boat that was heading back into port. Since seas were rough, our guide negotiated a boat swap and we jumped into the big boat. No sooner than we did, the outboard motor on our original boat fell into the lake. We all watched in horror as the driver thrust his hand in after the live motor and pulled it out.
    The church was a 50′ diameter mud hut with thatched roof. The inside was covered in bright paintings of holy scenes and martyrs with an African perspective. (see Buddy Jesus photo)
    The second monastery we visited hides on a tiny island and is still active. That said, the girls were allowed on the island, but had to say at the boat. This monastery boasted a trophy room where a monk showed off their collection of ancient swords, crowns and crosses that kings from around Christianity brought them over the last 800 years. He even pulled a 600 year old bible out into the sun so we could get some nice photos without flash!

    Next we headed up to Lalibela known for its ‘rock hewn churches’. Back in the 12th century, someone thought it would be a fun idea to carve a few churches straight down into the volcanic rock. There are 11 churches that all follow the same basic architecture: a large rectangular moat carved straight down, as deep as 50 feet. The remaining cube of rock in the middle is carved inside and out as a church of solid rock.
    One of them holds an ornate wooden box with long handles and is said to have carried the Ark of the Covenent on it’s way through town.
    The next church had a carved ‘Pillar of Light’ at center that is carefully shrowded in cloth. A monk stands watch over it, constantly reciting from a prayer book as he monitors activities. Underneath the 800 year old cloth is the story of the beginning and end of the world. No-one is allowed to look underneath since that would spoil the surprise.

    All the churches (except St. Mary’s with the Pillar of Light) had one thing in common. Crosses. Each one had at least one super-holy cross that the supervising monk would bring out for a photo opportunity. But these are smart monks with a good health care provider. After all the serious talk, they’d put on a pair of slick sunglasses to protect their eyes, give us a big Stevie Wonder grin and hold up their cross for photos.

    Not to be outdone, other monks living here use tiny cubbyholes in the rock as hermitages. Some sleep in the holes, as well as hang out there all day.

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