Bisrate Gabriel buzzes with excitement as children half dressed in white robes hurry from doorway-to-doorway, golden tassels and red ropes swinging as they go. Church elders pace slowly across open courtyards, looking as wise as they are noble embellished in equally resplendent garb. Gold seams inlaid throughout the clothing glisten as bright as a new-born star as the elders pass through dappled sun beams piercing the green foliage above. Adventurous vines climb the height of the old church tower, clinging to the old stone and winding patiently past slightly ajar windows, discretely privy to the quietest of whispers echoing in the eaves. Far above, a bright morning 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 rumbling erupts from hidden loudspeakers, a cry reminiscent of the call to prayer but it’s different, a moan evolving to words, sentences rolling through peaks and troughs, over and over and over repeating patterns of prayer and exaltation. The skilful tongue of this exotic dialogue drawing on ancient biblical prose as it proclaims an unrivalled devotion to the divine, aggressively lashing at the thin mountain air, eliciting archaic vowels from times lost.
Fully dressed and robed the children congregate in well-formed lines outside the arched church entrance whilst ahead of them an energetic team unfurl cardinal-red carpet across a now-closed Victoria. They sweep as they go, cleaning away the dust and debris and laying dried grass along the rose tapestry – no one now dares step across the newly laid path, a exclusive causeway destined for only the reverent to tread. Church elders accompany the children and usher them forward with eager purpose, the ensemble beginning to sway to the rhythmic sounds of cattle hide drums beating in unison to enveloping chants.
The 500-strong procession advances slowly along Victory, from Bisrate Gabriel towards the nearest water source as dictated by their texts, singing as they walk, swaying from side and side, palms turned upwards towards the heavens, eyes rolled in mesmerizing trance. At the end of the cortege, surrounded by wizened elders and leaping jokers, domed by a portable marque stands a revered possession of immaculate power. Hidden since from the unworthy for millennia by god’s own, a celestial gift to humanity in its darkest hours, here stands the Ark of the Covenant.