Keepers of the Lost Ark?

Ethiopian Orthodox Boast They Have Had the Sacred Chest

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ROME, JAN. 29, 2002 ( If a real-life Indiana Jones wanted to find the Ark of the Covenant, he would only have to turn to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, say partisans in Addis Ababa.

All traces of the ark, the sacred chest that Moses had built by divine instruction to safeguard the tablets of the law, were lost after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, however, appeals to tradition to affirm that a wooden chest covered in gold and decorated with cherubs, and in the care of a solitary Orthodox priest in an Aksum church, is the lost ark of the Old Testament.

Ethiopian Christians (about 31 million, or half the population) honored the ark last week at Temket, the feast of Jesus´ baptism.

According to legend, the ark arrived in Ethiopia thanks to Menelik, son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who as an adult visited his father in Jerusalem.

While in the Holy City, Menelik stole the ark and took it to Aksum, the legend goes, where he founded a kingdom and became the latter´s first sovereign. That dynasty governed Ethiopia until the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

«This history of the ark has not been documented, although many have attempted it, historian Richard Pankhurst told the Associated Press. Pankhurst is the founder of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia converted to Christianity around the year 330, but the legend of the ark does not arise until the 12th century, in a forthright attempt by the ruling dynasty to proclaim itself heir to King Solomon.

Despite the historical unknowns, the faith of Ethiopian Orthodox in the Aksum ark continues. They attribute salvific qualities to it, among them the country´s independence. Ethiopia is the only African country not subjected to colonization in the strict sense, though it was occupied by Fascist Italy from 1936-1941.

In the recent Temket celebration the faithful carried the «tabot» in procession. The latter are wooden tablets, which all churches possess, which symbolize the ark.

The tabot are carried in procession covered by a cloth and cannot be seen. People dance and sing around the tabot and the celebration continues throughout the night. The next day the faithful are sprinkled with water and some take it home. Young people and children often end the celebration by bathing in a river or swimming pool.

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