“Each year, on 30 November, Aksum is aroused from its sleep. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians, wrapped in their white pilgrimage attire, or gabis, converge on Aksum to celebrate one of Ethiopia’s holiest days, Mariam Zion, or Mary of Zion. They focus their attention on a modest shrine that is actually part of a cluster of churches all dedicated to her. Surrounded by a simple iron fence, and guarded by a solitary monk who alone has access to its contents, the chapel houses Ethiopia’s greatest treasure, the Ark of the Covenant.
Mariam Zion commemorates this African nation’s Judaic heritage and its Christian faith: Ethiopians believe the Ark of the Covenant, which enshrines the Ten Commandments, has been in Ethiopia since their first king, Menelik, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, took the Ark from Jerusalem. Others have suggested it came after 587 B.C., when references to the Ark disappear from Scripture after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. Mariam Zion therefore celebrates God’s presence in the Ten Commandments and honors Mary as the New Ark.
Legend or fact, Ethiopians take seriously what the Ark and Mary both represent: vessels in which the presence of God, the God of the Old and New Testaments, dwells.”