Ethiopia, celebration of Timkat in Lalibela, the city of the rock-hewn monasteries
Ethiopia is a very religious country. More than 80% people are orthodox Christians. Timkat is a three days celebration, which is held by all the people. It reminds of John the Baptist’s blessing of Christ in the River Jordan. Lalibela is a small village inside the mountains, a long away from civilization, where Timkat reaches the highest peak. In the 13th century, a number of rock-hewn monasteries were build by king Lalibela who ruled here for almost a century. There are two main groups of churches, the western and the northern group. The churches are monolithic, carved from a mass of red volcanic scoria connected by a maze of tunnels and passages with openings to hermit caves and catacombs. All the people from the province come here to celebrate Timkat. The priests wear colorful velvet and satin clothes and colored velvet umbrellas shelter them. All pilgrims carry long stick ends with fancy silver-like handles. In each temple, there is one priest guarding the church, showing the holy items like silver crosses, colorful icons and 1000 year old holy bible, written on goatskin. On the first day of the Timkat celebration, the Tabot, symbol of the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments, is taken out of the monasteries with a large procession. The processions are a blaze of colourful splendour and vibrant celebration. Priests and deacons wear richly embroidered robes, and carry ornate crosses, smoking censers, and beautiful fringed umbrellas whose sequins and gold threads gleam in the sunshine. In contrast, the faithful are dressed in simple flowing white shemma (cotton robe). All the monks shake sitras, religion bells and winding horns. One of the priests holds the Tabot on his head hidden in layers of colorful velvet shelter, not to be viewed by infidel people. The procession takes it to the large grass area where it is stored inside a special ceremonial tent. The priests and the monks are praying the whole night. Crowds of people spent the night in the surrounding area, to be close to the Tabot. Priests and deacons pray through the night, and a mass is held in the dark hours of the morning beside the water. Before sunrise the next day the pilgrims gather around the pool for the final blessing. Then the faithful are sprinkled with holy water, the priests using hose pipes to reach those who can’t get close to the pool. Then it’s time for the Tabots to be returned to their churches. The processions are reversed before the feasting begins.