SATURDAY, JANUARY 19: A sacred relic of legend and national pride is paraded through streets in sunny Ethiopia today, on the African Epiphany known as Timkat. An entourage of events accompany this celebration of the Baptism of Jesus: priests, shimmering in gold trim and velvet robes while donning exquisite umbrellas, gently carry a wrapped Tabot (model of the Ark of the Covenant) on their heads, while crowds follow along with song a dance to a nearby river. (Check out a photo slideshow from last year’s Timkat, courtesy of Huffington Post.)
Once at the river, priests retreat to a tent where they pray through the night. Laypeople, huddled in a crowd, sleep as close to the ceremonial tent as possible. In the morning’s dark hours, priests emerge from the tent to perform the Divine Liturgy; the body of water is then blessed and sprinkled on the attending devotees. (Wikipedia has details.)
By late morning, festivities have slowed at the water and large crowds accompany the priests back to their respective churches. Streets resound with music, stomping footsteps and the beating of children’s sticks, as entire villages come out to join the parade. Once the Tabots are safely returned to their home congregations, the faithful head home for a Timkat feast. (The BBC captured the series of events in photos.)
Ethiopians have extra reason to celebrate this year, as they mark both the 50th birthday of the African Union and the movement of their Prime Minister to the position of chairman in the African Union. (Read more in this news article.) During this golden jubilee year, all members turn to the rolling landscapes of Ethiopia—the very same place, ironically, where the AU was created five decades ago. Through May 25, Ethiopians will hold celebrations for the AU’s 50th birthday. Officials report that participants will also mark milestones in African liberation, progress and advancements in peace and security.
Why is the Ark of the Covenant so important to Ethiopia? A traditional line of Christian stories tells that the true Ark rests in a shrine at Axum, in northern Ethiopia.