Chapel of the Tablet – Aksum, Ethiopia - Atlas Obscura

Chapel of the Tablet

Supposedly this Ethiopian chapel holds the Ark of the Covenant, guarded by virgins who cannot leave the building. 


The popular image of the Ark of the Covenant was immortalized in Raiders of the Lost Ark,  but supposedly the real life Ark is held in this Ethiopian chapel, guarded by a virgin sentinel who must never leave the building.  

The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is said to have existed in some form on this spot since around the 4th century CE. As the story goes, the Ark was brought to Ethiopia, by the son of the Queen of Sheba, and placed in the church where it has stayed ever since. The structures of the church have been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times over the years. The current domed church building was built in the 1950s by Emperor Haile Selassie.

Despite their continued claims to have the Ark stored away in the catacombs of the Chapel of the Tablet, no one seems to have seen it. The only person who is allowed to see the artifact is the Guardian of the Covenant, the appointed guard of the Ark. This guard must be a virgin and they are chosen by the previous guard prior to their death. Once a guard is chosen, they supposedly cannot leave the chapel, lest the Ark go unguarded. Not even the leader of the Ethiopian church can see the Ark.

Whether or not the Ark truly resides beneath the chapel, the site still draws thousands of pilgrims each year, who come and view the chapel from outside the red fence that keep the faithful on the perimeter.

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