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Lost Ark Of The Covenant To Be Moved To A New Location - Page 1

Indiana Jones went to a lot of trouble to locate the mythic Ark of the Covenant in the 1981 Steven Spielberg film 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. It would have been a lot quicker, though perhaps not so dramatic, simply to have asked the Ethiopians.

caption: The new church of 'St Mary of Zion' at Aksum, Ethiopia.
The new church of 'St Mary of Zion' at Aksum, Ethiopia.

caption: Church warden holds an illustrated vellum Bible in the new church of 'St Mary of Zion'.
Church warden holds an illustrated vellum Bible in the new church of 'St Mary of Zion'.

The Ark of the Covenant is a chest made from acacia wood, plated with gold and topped with two golden angels. It was used by Moses to store the stone tablets on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments, received from God on Mount Sinai, in Egypt. According to the Old Testament, the Ark was kept in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem for centuries, but after that city was conquered by the Babylonians in the 6th century BC its exact location became unclear, and has been a matter of some question to historians and whip-wielding archaeologists ever since.

caption: Painting in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' showing the coronation of King Menelik.
Painting in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' showing the coronation of King Menelik.

caption: 'Chapel of the Tablet' front view with tarpaulin-covered roof.
'Chapel of the Tablet' front view with tarpaulin-covered roof.

Not so, say the Ethiopians. They maintain that the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia by King Menelik, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and has been safely looked after in that country for many years. Though moved about within Ethiopia for security reasons from time to time, the Ark has stayed at Aksum, in Tigray Province, for some hundreds of years. Since the 1960s, its current resting place has been the 'Chapel of the Tablet', a small and curiously styled building surrounded by spiked iron railings, and situated between two churches, the old and new, of St Mary of Zion in central Aksum.

caption: Painting in the new church of 'St Mary of Zion' showing the Ark being carried to Ethiopia by King Menelik.
Painting in the new church of 'St Mary of Zion' showing the Ark being carried to Ethiopia by King Menelik.

caption: Paintings in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' showing Virgin Mary and Saint George.
Paintings in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' showing Virgin Mary and Saint George.

The Chapel of the Tablet and the newer of the two 'St Mary of Zion' churches were built in the 1960s to a design by Emperor Hailie Selassie, and paid for by his wife Menen Asfaw. The Ark of the Covenant was then moved to the chapel and has been there ever since, guarded by the one man allowed to see it, an elderly monk named Abba Tesfa Mariam. He is charged with the care and preservation of the Ark for the full term of his life. He is forbidden to leave the chapel grounds during this period, and will only name his successor on his deathbed. I was lucky enough to meet and to speak with him, through an interpreter. He is a lovely old guy - one of those really religious people who have a beatific smile and a gaze that goes off into the far distance. If you ever think of what a really holy face looks like, he has it. I'm sure you know what I mean. I asked to take his photograph but was refused - I guess he gets a little fed up of travellers making this request.

caption: Paintings in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' and the covered entrance to the inner chapel.
Paintings in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' and the covered entrance to the inner chapel.

caption: Paintings in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' and the covered entrance to the inner chapel.
Paintings in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' and the covered entrance to the inner chapel.

During my most recent visit to the church, I was surprised to see some ground adjacent to the 'Chapel of the Tablet' being cleared and levelled by workmen, and some quantities of building stone being assembled nearby. Asking around, I managed to discover the cause: a new, temporary chapel is to be built, and the Ark is to be moved into it whilst the original chapel is repaired. It seems that the builders of the 1960s were not as careful as the builders of centuries past, and the roof of the chapel has developed some serious leaks and needs comprehensive repair work.

caption: Building stone being assembled adjacent to the 'Chapel of the Tablet'.
Building stone being assembled adjacent to the 'Chapel of the Tablet'.

caption: 'Chapel of the Tablet' adjacent to the old church of 'St Mary of Zion'.
'Chapel of the Tablet' adjacent to the old church of 'St Mary of Zion'.

To protect the Ark, a tarpaulin now covers the roof of the Chapel. This is just a temporary measure, though. To renovate the building thoroughly, the roof must be stripped back to the bare bones. The Ark needs protection whilst this work is going on, so a replacement chapel is to be built next door, providing a temporary home for it whilst the renovation work is going on.

caption: Workmen clearing the ground adjacent to the 'Chapel of the Tablet'.
Workmen clearing the ground adjacent to the 'Chapel of the Tablet'.

caption: Workmen clearing the ground adjacent to the 'Chapel of the Tablet'.
Workmen clearing the ground adjacent to the 'Chapel of the Tablet'.

The construction of the temporary chapel is, I was told, to take three months, though judging by the current speed of work this seems to be rather optimistic. My local contact in Aksum thinks that it will probably take 2 years. No plans are available to the public, so just how complex the new building may be can't be determined as yet. When the work is finished, the Ark of the Covenant will be carried to its new resting place.

caption: 'Chapel of the Tablet' adjacent to the new church of 'St Mary of Zion'.
'Chapel of the Tablet' adjacent to the new church of 'St Mary of Zion'.

caption: Workmen clearing the ground adjacent to the 'Chapel of the Tablet'.
Workmen clearing the ground adjacent to the 'Chapel of the Tablet'.

That this can be done by the one person allowed to see it is unlikely. The Bible describes the size of the Ark as 2.5 cubits in length, 1.5 in breadth, and 1.5 in height, which translates to 1.31 x 0.79 x 0.79 in metres in today's units of measurement. It is normally carried on two long wooden poles. If it really is this size, and still contains the two stone tablets that list God's Ten Commandments, then the elderly monk will no doubt need some help to transport it. Let us hope that when this happens there are photographers present to record the unique event, so the world may know for certain, once and for all, where the Ark of the Covenant really is.

caption: The new church of 'St Mary of Zion'.
The new church of 'St Mary of Zion'.

caption: Painting in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' showing religious gathering outside the old church of 'St Mary of Zion'.
Painting in the old church of 'St Mary of Zion' showing religious gathering outside the old church of 'St Mary of Zion'.

Background to this article: The above article and pictures were submitted to the UK press agency 'Caters' External link opens a new Browser window as an idea for a possible newspaper story. It was picked up by the British newspaper 'Daily Mail' - click here External link opens a new Browser window to see the story online. As is common, no doubt, in the newspaper industry they used a professional journalist to re-write my article, and they only used 3 of the 16 pictures that I had submitted. I am thus publishing my original article and all of the pictures here, in the hope that they may be of interest to some of my readers at GnomePlanet dot Com

I have been asked for my own personal opinion on this story. Do I believe that the Ark of the Covenant has the special powers that some attribute to it? Do I believe that the Ark really exists, and is now being looked after in Aksum? Well, I have to answer that I'm not a believer in any kind of special powers or special forces, despite what was depicted in the Indiana Jones movie. I'm completely open-minded as to whether the Ark actually exists still, and whether or not it is kept in the 'Chapel of the Tablet' at Aksum. Lots of people in Ethiopia are positive that it is there, and who am I to tell them that they are wrong until I have positive proof one way or the other? If someone gets to see the Ark when it is moved to the new chapel, then I'll be very pleased to have a positive answer to a question that has been puzzling historians and archaeologists for many many years. I have no particular religious message to put across by sharing this story - I'm not even a Christian (actually I'm an eclectic who believes that all religions have something good to tell the world). I guess that if I did see the Ark, I would just break down and cry to see something so ancient that is so special to so many people in the world. Nothing more.

Follow Up: I see that this story was picked up by at least seven foreign newspapers: News.Com.AU External link opens a new Browser window, The Weekly World News External link opens a new Browser window, Adelaide Now External link opens a new Browser window, Enigma External link opens a new Browser window (Translated to English External link opens a new Browser window), The Canadian Italian Daily News External link opens a new Browser window (Translated to English External link opens a new Browser window), Novinky.CZ External link opens a new Browser window (Translated to English External link opens a new Browser window), and Cross|Science-Date External link opens a new Browser window (Translated to English External link opens a new Browser window). None of them purchased photos from my UK press agency 'Caters' External link opens a new Browser window - they all used other stock photos of the site, which rather negates the point of sending off my photos to them in the first place! Ho hum. The Canadian Italian Daily News reports that the Israel Newspaper 'Maariv' also has coverage, but I couldn't find the story on their website. I did have an email from their London correspondent 'Doron Bar-Gil' asking me to answer some questions, but when I asked him to first buy a photo or two to add to his article, I didn't get a reply.

 

New Photos as the building of the replacement chapel proceeds...

I have been sent some recent photos of the building work by my contact in Aksum - please visit Ark of the Covenant - Page 2 and Ark of the Covenant - Page 3 to see them.

 

Note: larger versions of these images are all available for licensing - please Contact me for details.

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