Category Archives: Meskal

The death of King Lalibela Commemorated Today

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

Today, 19th June / Senay 12, is known as Senay Mikael and is an important Saint’s day across the country. But in Lalibela it is the most important holy day in Lalibela after Gena, for it is the anniversary of the death 796 years ago, of the Saint-King Lalibela, whose name the town has taken. He is said to have died in 1221 and is renown as the architect of the amazing labyrinth of rock hewn churches which are the focus of the town of Lalibela, formerly known as Roha.

Most sources available on the internet are vague on when was King Lalibela born and how long he lived. Entries from the late Richard Pankhurst and other well researched entries such as museums are vague about his year of birth often preferring to give his dates as late 12th

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Century and early 13th Century. Others only really agree about his reign (most agree with 1181-1221). It is often stated that King Lalibela became King and took the thrown name Gebre Meskal (as Ras Tefari took the name Haile Selassie) in 1181. Wikipedia however states that he was born in Roha (the previous name for Lalibela) in 1162 AD and died in 1221 at the age of 58/59. The Dictionary of African Biography notes King Lalibela’s dates as 1150’s to c.1225. It could be that the difference between 1150s (approx 1155) and 1162 would be down to the difference between the western and Ethiopian calendars. The circa 1225 for his death is not out of line with the suggested 1221! It should be noted that in mediaeval times living beyond 40 was probably beyond the average life expectancy and certainly late 50’s was an old man. Few would have lived beyond their early 60s.

His tomb is in the church Golgota which adjoins Beta Mikael

LalibelaGolgotta saint bas releif

Bas Relief in Golgotha church in Lalibela

in the main cluster of churches in Lalibela, making this a very special double annual saint’s day. Yesterday on the eve of the big day, there was singing and chanting around Bet Mikael and Golgotta (where the Saint-King is buried) and this morning the two tabots (Mikael and Lalibela) were paraded out to a nearby tent with great pomp and celebration, and an hour or so after returned to the church. There is also an especially big market today full of livestock and other local produce, even though its not the usual Saturday market day.

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Melcam Meskal

A Meskal Demera (bonfire) built by locals in Addis

A Meskal Demera (bonfire) built by locals in Addis

Today is the eve of Meskal, and Addis Ababa has bonfires growing on street corners and roundabouts all over the city, with long bundles of sticks, huge bunches of bright yellow Meskal daisies and of bright green grass for sale. The Meskal daisy is the image most associated with the holiday, as it grows wild across meadows and grasslands throughout the highlands of Ethiopia.

Meskal (itself means cross) is a ceremony that commemorates the Finding of the True Cross.  Legend has it that in 326 AD, Queen Eleni (Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great) was guided by a dream to light a fire and follow the smoke to find the True Cross. The smoke rose high in the sky

decorations around Addis

decorations around Addis

and descended at the point where she found the Cross.

Across Ethiopia tonight (and for some tomorrow) bonfires will be lit commemorating this event. There are various traditions which include the prediction as to the harvest by the direction in which the cross in the fire falls. Also people mark their foreheads in the sign of the cross with the ash from the fire.

The festival is also connected with the relic of the cross that was reputedly found at Gishen Amba, a cross shaped mountain in Wollo, where the church of Gishen

A small Meskal bonfire at Kebena, dropped in the Ethiopian flag, with a cross on the top.

A small Meskal bonfire at Kebena, dropped in the Ethiopian flag, with a cross on the top.

Mariam celebrated a major pilgrimage and festival just after Meskal each year.

A good place to join in the Meskal celebrations is with the villages on the Tesfa Treks in Wollo and Tigray. In Adigrat (Tigray) and in the villages around there is a very big Meskal celebration.

Best wishes to all for a peaceful and fun Meskal demera tonight and a joyful holiday tomorrow.

 

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