19 January 2019
Celebrating the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, Timkat is the greatest festival for Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia, and the three-day affair is rich in colour, comprising various ceremonies all conducted with great pomp. On the eve of Timkat, called Ketera, sacred replicas of the Ark of the Covenant (known as tabots), are wrapped in luxurious cloth and placed on the heads of priests to be carried out of the church in procession with the clergy. The pilgrimage halts just outside of the city at Fasilides’ Bath, whereupon a divine liturgy is celebrated at 2am, attended by crowds who bring picnics to eat by the light of oil lamps. At dawn a priest extinguishes a candle burning on a pole set in a nearby river using a ceremonial cross. Many in the congregation leap into the river. Escorted by horsemen, the tabots are then taken back to the churches, while the festivities continue.