Bisrate Gabriel buzzes with nervous excitement as children dressed in white robes hurry from doorway to doorway, their maroon ropes and golden tassels swinging back and forth as they weave amongst the busy crowd. Church elders embellished in resplendent garb pace across open courtyards, their well-worn attire looking as wise as it does noble. Inlaid golden seams sparkle and glisten as they pass through dappled sun beams piercing a ceiling of green foliage above. Adventurous vines climb the height of the old church tower, winding past slightly ajar windows, discreetly privy to the quietest of whispers echoing up in the eaves. Towering above, a blinding sun gazes down over the ancient domed roof where a single iron cross hoisted up high casts a reassuring shadow on the ground below.
A vocal rumbling erupts from hidden depths, a wailing reminiscent of a call to prayer echos throughout the grounds, emerald and olive shaking gently back and forth as sound waves resonate through the undergrowth. The moans evolve to words and sentences rolling through peaks and troughs, over and over repeating patterns of prayer and exaltation. The skilful tongue of this exotic dialogue aggressively lashes at the thin mountain air, eliciting biblical prose as they proclaim an unrivalled devotion to the divine.
The church springs to life as children congregate in well-formed lines outside the arched entrance, ahead of them an energetic team of runners unfurl cardinal-red carpet across a now-closed Victoria. They sweep as they go, cleaning debris and laying dried grass along the rose tapestry, no one dares step across the newly lain path – an exclusive causeway destined for only the reverent to tread. Church elders accompany the children and usher them forward with eager purpose, a singular mass swaying to the rhythmic beating of cattle hide drums in unison to the ever-enveloping chanting of vowels from eons past.
This five hundred-strong procession advances slowly forward, from Bisrate Gabriel to the nearest water source as dictated by their texts. Singing as they walk, they sway with palms turned towards the heavens, their eyes rolled in mesmerizing trance. At the far end of this impressive cortege, surrounded by wizened elders and leaping jokers, domed by a marque and partially hidden from public view, exists a revered possession of immaculate power. Concealed from the unworthy for millennia by gods own, carried tirelessly from peak through platter across divides revered, a celestial gift to humanity in its darkest hours resides. Here stands the Ark of the Covenant.