My experience in Axum was split between the ancient and the contemporary. The day started out with visits to the tombs and obelisks of an empire that was a major world power in the ancient world. Most of the sites pre-date the arrival of Christianity to Ethiopia. To me they felt reminiscent of the archaeological sites of ancient Greece with the use of precisely cut massive stone blocks.

The afternoon transitioned to contemporary Axum with a visit to the modern Cathedral of Our Lady Mary of Zion built by Emperor Haile Selassie. Behind the cathedral is the smaller chapel which houses the Ark of the Covenant. The chapel is surprisingly unassuming and it was surrounded by scaffolding so I didn’t get an interesting picture. I was told that the Ark is guarded by one priest who dedicates his life to the task and is the only person allowed into the Holy of Holies in the chapel.

The day of my visit to Axum was the day before Easter so I was able to come back to the cathedral in the evening to listen to the chanting and watch the celebration that went on for several hours leading up to mass beginning at midnight. The experience was deeply moving — I don’t know a better way to describe it. There were distinct events and rituals that took place throughout the evening, but the chanting from one quarter or another seemed nearly continuous and the transitions between events was fluid, if almost haphazard. So the effect was of hours of continuous chanting gradually building and leading up to a procession around the cathedral at midnight accompanied by drums and trumpets. At first I was hesitant to take pictures or record any video, but no one seemed to mind and eventually I noticed that quite a few other people were using their phones to take pictures throughout the evening.

I’ll post some more video if I can successfully upload it, the network connection is not very fast.

Postscript: Shortly after visiting Axum my laptop finally decided that its hard drive had had enough and died. The next couple weeks were spent biking and so it’s taken me this long to get a new hard drive and re-install everything so that I can post updates and photos.