hidartsionThe Virgin is one of the most venerated of all religious figures in Ethiopia. About 33 days are annually dedicated to different celebrations in the commemoration of Mary. “Hidar Zion” is associated with the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in Axum and the belief that the Ark itself is a symbolism to Her womb. This festival is attended by tens of thousands of people from all over Ethiopia, making it one of the most joyous annual pilgrimages in Axum, the “sacred city of the Ethiopians.”

Hidar Tsion is the main festival celebrated in Axum. This is due to the believed existence of the Ark of the Covenant there. It is celebrated on November 30th (December 1st in a leap year), Hidar 21 according to the Ethiopian calendar.

 The Ark of the Covenant

There are several explanations about the origin of the festival. Does it commemorates the entrance of the Ark to Ethiopia or to Axum? Another explanation is it commemorates the triumph over a pagan god who faced the Ark. Or is it the restoration of the Ark to the Israelites?

Even at Hidar Tsion the original Ark is not taken out. At this day the Tabot, a replica of the original Ark, is taken out of the Makdas, the holy of holiest, of both Maryam of Tsion churches and presented to the faithful. Processions, prayers and chanting accompany this event. Many thousands of pilgrims from all over Ethiopia will travel to Axum to withness this celebration at least once in their life.

The original Ark of the Covenant is kept in a small chapel on the compound of the Maryam of Tsion churches and is never taken out.