Published on : 21 December 2011
http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/famil ... n-churches
By Michel Hoebink (Photo: Michel Hoebink)
A visit to an Ethiopian church can be a confusing experience for Westerners. There they find the Christian religion they know from back home, but it comes in an exotic form which is sometimes reminiscent of, say, India. Then again in some respects Ethiopian Christians resemble Muslims. The atmosphere in the churches is informal, and the way people dress and pray is similar - they kneel down and touch the floor with their foreheads.
Ethiopians are proud of their history, and particularly of the fact that they were never colonised. Northern Ethiopia's Christian culture dates back to long before the colonial period, to the fourth century A.D. On religious holidays such as Christmas and Epiphany thousands of pilgrims gather in holy places like Axum and Lalibela. To reach these locations, some walk for days along age-old footpaths crisscrossing the Ethiopian highlands.
All churches have a sanctum which only priests are allowed to enter. It houses a copy of the Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments chiselled in stone with which Moses confirmed the covenant between God and man.
The Ethiopians claim that they possess the original ark, stored in a chapel of St Mary's Church in Axum. Thousands of pilgrims flock to the church and the chapel every year, gazing at the chapel through an iron gate. Tourists are not even allowed near the place, a measure allegedly taken after two tourists climbed the gate to go and take a close look at the Ark.