This weekend the normally quiet and peaceful town of Axum has been overrun. The 30th November (or 21st of the third month in the Ethiopian calendar) is the biggest St Mary festival of the year. St Mary is one of the most popular saints in Ethiopia and with St Mary church in Axum being one of the most sacred places for Ethiopian people make the journey from all over the country and even the world to be here for the festival. The town has been preparing – cleaning up roads, repainting the white lines, building works and renovations being finished in preparation for the weekend. People were arriving all last week with most coming on Friday night and the atmosphere started to build. This included a marching band passing by down the main street!
On the Saturday morning we walked up to the church where the main concentration of people was. There was no room for traffic with the road up to the church full of people.
There were camels at the side along the way with rumours of camel rides available although no one was brave enough when we were there!
In the grounds of the church compound itself people had been camping out for the weekend. Mostly people seemed to sleep out in the open on the ground but a few small western style tents were also visible.
I couldn’t figure out at first why everyone was waving plastic bottles in the air but then realised they were all clamouring to get some holy water from within the grounds of the church. A comparison to Lourdes ran through my head!
Everyone tried to get into the church itself also to take part in the long service that was ongoing to celebrate the feast day.
Of course there was singing, dancing and chanting going on all around us to celebrate the day.
We had a number of visitors for the weekend to soak up the atmosphere of the festival. We even managed my first gin and tonic since I arrived! Made with local gin of course and very drinkable 🙂 Everyone started to leave last night and Axum is now starting to return to it’s normal pace of life. It’s been a great weekend and a joy to be here to experience everything that is going on.