Among the most outlandish of Ethiopian legends is the centuries-old claim that the Ark of the Covenant was transported there three thousand years ago by Menelik I (the illegitimate son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba) and is now stashed away at Aksum’s Church of Maryam Tsion. According to the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was built by divine specification to hold the Tablets of Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Vested with deadly supernatural powers, it was enshrined in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem for five centuries prior to the temple being razed by Babylonians in 587 BC, after which its whereabouts became shrouded in mystery.
The best-known work addressing the Ethiopian claim to the Ark, Graham Hancock’s controversial bestseller The Sign and the Seal, constructs a surprisingly plausible (albeit largely circumstantial) chain of events wherein the Ark was transported south along the Nile to the island of Tana Kirkos, where it would remain for another eight hundred years prior to its relocation to Aksum in the fourth century AD. Alluring as this scenario might be, most scholars dismiss Ethiopia’s claim to the Ark as pure fabrication. And whatever the truth of the matter, there’s little likelihood of it being put to the test in the foreseeable future. Indeed, the only living person to have seen the supposed Ark of the Covenant is the priest appointed as its official guardian, who keeps it under lock and key at all times.