Marilyn Geary

Journeys Illuminating the Old Ways

Marilyn Geary

2015 Jan Day 8 Axum


Ancient Axum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is said to have been inhabited by the Queen of Sheba in the 10th century B.C. The Ark of the Covenant was brought to Axum and now resides in a chapel of the church of Saint Mary of Zion.

The pre-Christian Axum civilization created giant stellae, monolithic granite structures, under which rest palaces, tombs, and tunnels yet to be excavated. Mussolini took one of the stellae to Rome, but it was finally returned to Axum in 2005. This one fell down 3,000 years ago after 5 years standing, as its base was not wide enough to support it.


A wedding party is going to take photos in front of the stellae.


We visited the museum and a women’s cooperative that weaves colorful baskets.


Next we visited Queen Sheba’s palace a little ways outside of Axum. It was discovered in 1974.
Shopping for arts and crafts is easy in Axum with its many shops catering to the tourist. We visited a particularly nice shop selling lots of fine silver crosses. I was taken by this design on a goat skin scroll. The guide told me it depicts “a snake saint, ” but then again….??
I could have spent hours in this shop with its flotsam and jetsam of babbles and beads. The owner patiently watched me plow through his jars of beads to find the few that called to me.

After lunch, we visited the Church of St.Mary of Zion, where the Ark of the Covenant is kept under cover by a guardian, the only person allowed to see it. Devotees rest in the courtyard.


We came across another wedding, this one in the church.


The deacon of the church showed us a 500 year old copy of the book of Mary’s miracles. It is made from goat hide, each page a goat. The original is a thousand years old and resides in a museum. The images are stunningly vibrant, painted with natural dyes. It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen.


The men were taken off to see the chapel where the Ark of the Covenant is kept while we women waited around for them. Holy Mary is the only woman allowed in the chapel (hmmm…).

Tomorrow we’re off for Lalibela and its stone-hewn churches.




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