Ethiopian Christians celebrate the discovery of the True Cross

Posted on Tuesday, 27 September 2011 15:43

Tens of Millions of Ethiopian Orthodox church followers on Tuesday evening celebrate the eve of Demera, a festival marking the discovery of the True Cross, a crucifix on which Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified.

Ethiopia has a population of about 80 million people, and half of those are believed to be Orthodox Christians.

In Addis Ababa, the main centre of the festivities, thousands of people have already made a pilgrimage to Meskel Square, where the celebration will take place on Tuesday evening.

The square is already teeming with tourists, Christians and the diplomatic community, who are all gathered to take part in the commemorations.

Roads leading to Meskel Square, a traditional place for hosting huge crowds, have since been closed as the authorities try to prevent traffic jams and congestion.

The eve of Demera, which means the discovery of the True Cross, is a colourful celebration across Ethiopia.

Each year, the celebrations in Addis Ababa are attended by more than 100 000 people.

The day is marked with a grand bonfire ceremony, which is lit by the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos, as he gives religious blessings to the gathering.

Hundreds of priests and deacons, dressed in traditional Ethiopian plain white clothes sing hymns to add colour to the event.

The festival, which dates back 1 600 years ago, is celebrated with yellow Meskel daisies placed on top of huge bonfires that are lit in the evening in front of the throngs of celebrators.

Ornate priests, carrying silver Coptic crosses, dance with their followers around the fires singing and chanting, while carrying flaming torches.

Empress Helena

The festivities, which are capped by the recreation of the cross using Meskel daisies, also mark the end of the three-month long rainy season and the return of summer to Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months. The thirteenth month, known, as Pagume, like a leap year, has 5 or six days depending on the season.

The celebration of Meskel signifies the presence of the True Cross at the mountain of Gishen Mariam Monastery in Ethiopia and also symbolises the events carried out by Empress Helena.

According to tradition, smoke drifted towards the direction of the buried cross when Empress Helena lit incense and prayed for assistance and guidance.

She dug and found three crosses; one of them was the True Cross on which Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified.

The empress then gave a piece of the True Cross to all churches, including the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Parts of the cross were said to be in Israel.

This piece has since been brought to Ethiopia.

According to Ethiopian legend, when people got close to a piece of the True Cross it made them naked because of its powerful light.

For this reason, a decision was made to bury it at the Gishen Mariam Monastery in Wollo region.

The monastery is home to a voluminous book, which records the story of the True Cross of Christ and how it was acquired. The place is one of Ethiopia’s main tourist attractions.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options