Timkat is the greatest festival of the Ethiopian Orthodox Calender. Falling on the 19 of January, it celebrates the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. The eve of Timkat is called Ketera. On this day the tabots of each church are carried out in procession to a place near a river where the next day's celebration will take place. The tabot is a representation of the Arc of the Covenant. The priests pray throughout the night and mass are performed around 2 AM.
The Ketera ceremony is accompanied by hymns and dances of the priests and drum beating. I witnessed the Ketera celebrations in Axum in the north of Ethiopia. Axum was the centre of the Axumite empire, and is considered to be the holiest city in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims that the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum houses the Biblical Ark of the Covenant, in which lie the Tablets of Law upon which the Ten Commandments are inscribed.
The Ketera celebrations take place by the remains of the Queen of Sheba’s palace. The whole city gathers, with the women dressed in their finest white Timkat gowns. Hymns are sung in what seemed to be quite a solemn affair.