Keepers of the Lost Ark?

Christians in Ethiopia have long claimed to have the ark of the covenant. Our reporter investigated

A huddle grows around the high priests, with one young priest bearing an ikon, or holy picture, while others hold ornate gold and silver crosses. (Paul Raffaele)
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In the final moments of my search, I could not judge whether the ark of the covenant truly rested inside this nondescript chapel. Perhaps Menelik's traveling companions did take it and spirit it home to Ethiopia. Perhaps its origins here stem from a tale spun by Aksumite priests in ancient times to awe their congregations and consolidate their authority. But the reality of the ark, like a vision in the moonlight, floated just beyond my grasp, and so the millennia-old mystery remained. As the devotion of the worshipers at Timkat and the monks at Tana Kirkos came back to me in the shimmering light, I decided that simply being in the presence of this eternal mystery was a fitting ending to my quest.

Paul Raffaele is a frequent contributor to Smithsonian. His story on Congo's imperiled mountain gorillas appeared in October.

Ethiopia & Eritrea by Matt Phillips and Jean-Bernard Carillet, Lonely Planet Publications (Oakland, California), 2006
Searching for the Ark of the Covenant by Randall Price, Harvest House Publishers (Eugene, Oregon), 2005
The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant by Graham Hancock, Simon & Schuster, 1992


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