Timkat Celebrations in Axum

Earlier this week Gareth and I went to Axum, one of Ethiopia’s most famous towns and home of the Axumite civilisation. We arrived on Tuesday and stayed over with Rea, a Filipino volunteer who works at Axum University. It was great to catch up with someone from our September intake and hear how her work was going.

Wednesday was Timkat – Ethiopian Epiphany – which celebrates the baptism of Jesus and is a large public festival all over the country. We joined the early morning crowds gathering at The Queen of Sheba’s pool (which is actually a large excavated reservoir) and watched the Mass being conducted by the priests at the water’s edge. We scrambled up a nearby rock to get a better view and saw hundreds of people gathered around the pool. As the priests finished their Mass, they blessed the water. At this point, many people jumped into the holy water or started to collect it in large containers, to give as a gift to their family. It was an incredible sight.

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Afterwards we followed some processions around the town. Many people had formed small groups and were chanting and dancing as we passed some of the historical sites around the town – most important of which are the impressive stelae and the Cathedral of Tsion Maryam, where the Ark of the Covenant is claimed to be kept. Here is a video we made of a group singing.

Later, we met Cathy and Peter for lunch. Cathy is a volunteer who works in English Language Improvement, like Gareth. She showed us around Axum University which is only a few years old and still under construction. However, like most of Axum, it felt very modern and developed in comparison with Abbyi Addi. Axum is also a popular destination for groups of foreign tourists and after not seeing another foreigner in Abbiyi Addi for so long it was like being in a completely different country.

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