Land of Origins

I spent Sunday as many Christians do by visiting Church, except mine was a non-believer’s fact finding touristic mission of the Ethiopian Monarchy and the roots of Christianity, so when I had to touch a cross with my face three times before entering the Cathedral, I felt a bit fraudulent.
Most Ethiopian Churches are divided in to three sections – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit/Ghost. The chanting at the beginning of Mass begins in the Father, then they move in to the Son section before finishing the service in the most Holy section, the Holy Spirit. In this last section, in every Ethiopian Church, sits a copy of the Arc of the Covenant, the 10 commandments Jesus gave to Moses. The original document is in Axum, north Ethiopia, and is monitored by 1 guard. A building can only become a Church with a copy of it in the 3rd section.

The Holy Trinity Cathedral is near the University grounds and is the highest ranking Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Addis. It was built under Haile Sellassie’s reign and commemorated the end of the Italian occupation. It’s the second most sacred place in Ethiopia; the first being in Axum where the Arc of the Covenant is.

Surrounding the Cathedral’s imposing and European look are graves and burial sites of some of Ethiopia’s most important people, from famous musicians to football commentators to important people of politics and history. Sylvia Pankhurst, famous British suffragette, is also buried in the grounds. Inside the Cathedral sits the tombs of Emporer Haile Sellassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw, interred at the top/north end, the Holy Spirit section. Their thrones also sit nearby. But he wasn’t always buried there.

It was after the end of the Derg regime in 1992, and a movement of Rastafarians, that eventually the remains of the last King of Kings, who had been buried 13 foot underground opposite Derg Prime Minister Haile Mariam’s office, were given a proper burial. He was strangled, watched on by Haile Mariam, in his wooden shack after nearly a year in prison in 1975 after the coup d’etat. 60 members of his administration were all shot dead in one go shortly before his demise. His entire family was locked up and some of them died due as all of them – over 20 – were kept in a cramped cell. Rumours have it that Sellassie was suffering from dementia as well so may have not realised that he had been deposed. 

Some way to abolish the monarchy, that. Over 200 kings from the same family had reigned in Ethiopia since the Queen of Sheba and it was completely destroyed in less than a year. Don’t forget that Haile Mariam is still alive in Zimbabwe with his chum Robert Mugabe.

Painted on the Cathedral windows on one side is the Old Testament, depicting all the famous scenes, and painted on the windows on the other side of the Church is the New Testament. Scenes of Haile Sellassie in Biblical stories are painted on the roof. The Lion of Judah sits everywhere and the Star of David is never seen that far away from the outfit of the Monarchy. There’s so much history here and Ethiopia really is the land of origins. The history of all this is a lot more prominent here.

A young lad with good English collared me and told me about Menelik II’s mausoleum, which was just 10 minutes walk away in the St Gabriel Cathedral. Haile Sellassie’s Dad, Ras Makonnen, was a cousin of Menelik, who descended from the son that the Queen of Sheba had with King Solomon. Haile Sellassie was the last in this long line of rulers who descended from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Ethiopians insist this is true and who am I to doubt them.

St Gabriels has similar Biblical scenes painted on the roof and also a depiction of the Battle of Axum. This is one of the scenes of I think Menelik and Haile Sellassie.

Menelik II had a fantastic reputation and was a great modernizer. The amount of ‘firsts’ he bought to Ethiopia is staggering, not to mention the defeat of the Italian colonialists at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. Hospitals, roads, water, all that stuff. He and his wife sit in huge tombs in the basement of St Gabriel, with their daughter’s tomb with them.

Just casually in a frame upstairs is an original painting by Michaelangelo that was given to Menelik. Maybe this was an attempted sweetener by the Italians?

The amount of history just sat here knocking around is mad. You can see it, touch it, take photos of it – the Arc of the Covenant in Axum is impossible to see but the more recent stuff that is here is very easily accessible. The Monarchy and Religion here are inseparable and for me, even though a believer of neither, I have a great intrigue for the history of it here for some reason. I wish I could remember everything I was told but there’s so much of it.

Tortoises pootled around the church grounds, giving me an earworm of the theme tune to One Foot In The Grave.

That lad was a good tour guide. What I’ve found here is if you look like a tourist and are wandering around on your own, there’s a smattering of English or French speaking locals that hang around for that very purpose. They help you out, take you on tours and then you give them a bit of cash afterwards. They all say they are ‘studying tourism’ and I don’t know if that’s true but this lad knew a lot about his home country and was well up on his history. Good luck to him.

Two other instances of me being approached in the street was in Kazanchis. It was the same spot and was 2 separate lads who had the exact same story – both DJs, studying tourism, got a shop round the corner selling music – so I think there must be a group of them who walk around all day finding tourists. If another one tries it with me I might tell outrageous lies. 

I pootled up to the Post Office yesterday. I was approached there too and helped out, again by what looked like a bloke who just stays there all day helping foreigners and hopes to make some cash. I went for coffee and cake afterwards in a local cafe. 25 birr! That’s about 50p or something. It was a yellow cake and called ‘English Slice’ on the receipt, and I hope that was just for me. 

I’m off to the Simien Mountains with Biniam and crew tomorrow, spending English Christmas at some mad high altitude and freezing my nuts off at night. We’ll be gone for nearly a week so this is the last blog post for a little bit, not that anyone will read it over Christmas anyway.

I went to Merkato today to get a sleeping bag. It’s apparently the largest market in Africa and total madness but it was nothing on the chaos of Lagos Market. Saying that, it did still have the sprawling numbers of people and the streets were lined with homeless people, but it wasn’t nearly as chaotic as expected. I was helped by the sweetest girl on her way back from school, who asked the locals where my shop address was and walked around with me right until I left. I wanted to give her some of my change but she said no, which was a first. It’s not far from the Post Office so I strolled back as the sun began to set, picking up some unbelieveable dark chocolate on the way and muching it as I headed for the gallery.

There are some kids in the street around the gallery and Top One that keep saying ‘Polish’ to me. My response every time is ‘no, I’m English’. It was only this morning that I realised they are actually offering to polish my shoes. Prat. 

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