By Mark Ellis –
In mid-December of last year, a horrible atrocity took place at the venerable Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Aksum (Axum), Ethiopia, when 750 Christians who had been protecting the church were taken out and shot dead.
The massacre was confirmed by three sources: the Europe External Programme with Africa (EEPA), Belgian geographer Jan Nyssen, and an eyewitness reporting to Le Monde.
But what may have been taken from inside the church could involve a historical crime of biblical proportions – the theft of the legendary Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark is believed by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians to have been brought to Aksum by Menelik, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, after Jerusalem was besieged in 586/587 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar and Solomon’s temple destroyed.
Since that time, the Ark has been guarded by monks who are forbidden to leave the church grounds.
The Ark is a four-foot-long chest made of acacia wood, covered with gold inside and out, which originally contained the two tablets of the Law (Ten Commandments) given to Moses, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a pot of manna.
The cover of the Ark is also significant. Known as the Mercy Seat, its unique design included two golden cherubim facing one another with outstretched wings. Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest sprinkled the covering with the blood of an animal sacrifice to atone for the sins of the priests and all the people.
“This was the most sacred place in the entire Sanctuary. It was the visible throne of the invisible presence of God,” Don Stewart notes in his book, The Coming Temple.
Christians believe the Day of Atonement has significance for their faith:
When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle…and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He covered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)
The mass murder that took place on December 15th (one report says 17–20th) in Aksum began when the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and Amhara militias approached the church, which contained 1000 people inside.
The Christians at the church believed the soldiers wanted to take the Ark. After the believers were forced to exit the church to the town square in front, the ENDF and Amhara militias started shooting, killing 750 people.
The first news reports of the attack were provided by survivors arriving in Mekelle after walking 120 miles on foot, according to The Guardian.
Survivors said the aim of the attack was to remove the ark and take it to Addis Ababa (the capital), Martin Plaut, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies told The Observer.
“They’ve also gone through some monasteries and churches, taking Bibles and icons back across the border. It’s absolutely appalling,” Plaut said.
The conflict known as the Tigray War began in November when Ethiopia’s prime minister sent federal troops to attack the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which ruled the country for nearly 30 years. The prime minister accused the TPLF of attempting to subvert Ethiopia by holding illegitimate elections.
“International experts have raised the alarm over the security of the Ark and other religious and cultural artifacts as a result of escalating conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia,” according to The Guardian.