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Ethiopian Rift Valley Safaris
GISHEN MARIAM - (Feast of the Piece of the Cross)
The venue of this festival itself, is a marvel. Flying over, one can see the naturally crude cruciform-shaped land feature of Gishen.
Girdled by sheer cliffs in all directions and with only one access, the church is perched at the top of a hill and had played a significant role in the political history of Medieval Ethiopia as the "Royal Prison."
Later, Emperor Dawit is said to have brought a piece of Christ's cross from Egypt.
Later yet, it was Emperor Zara Yacob, said to be led by the Holy Spirit who brought this treasure to it's present location at Gishen, thus the celebrations are associated with him.
The glorification of Mary is also traced back to the same period and Emperor. The Eve of the festival falls on Sept 30 with the main celebration on the following day.
KULUBI GABRIEL - (Celebration of St. Gabriel)
Almost every Christian in Ethiopia has a patron Saint and one of the most popular is Gabriel.
The 28th of December and 26th of July are dedicated to the annual and colorful celebration of this Saint.
The origin of the Church of St. Gabriel is traced back to the last decade of 19th century and it was Ras Mekonnen (Haile Selassie's father) who is credited with the construction.
Vast crowds of people congregate on the day of this celebration. People of all ages, sexes, classes and religion gather from all corners of Ethiopia, reaching 100,000 or more. Pilgrims walk to the Church to make or fulfill a vow, to ask favors, or in many cases to give thanks for favors granted. Some carry heavy rocks on their backs, particularly for the last few kilometers uphill to the Church.
Babies born through Gabriel's intervention are brought to the front of the Church for baptism. During the duration of the celebration 1,000 babies may be christened, most of them named after Saint Gabriel.
SHEIKH HUSSEIN - (An Islamic Pilgrimage)
Lost in the desert plains of Bale Province in Ethiopia, lies the sacred shrine of Sheikh Hussein. Its glistening white domes float in a vast sea of emerald green scrub. Through the heat haze and craggy outlines of the Bale Mountains on the distant horizon, this remote shrine and its sacred compound house the tomb of a Saint renowned for his miraculous powers.
Although little is known of Sheikh Hussein's history, his shrine has become the site one of Ethiopia's most extraordinary pilgrimages. Twice each year up to 50,000 pilgrims, most coming from Ethiopia's remote villages, make an arduous journey to pray at the shrine of Shiekh Hussein.
Some will travel by donkey or mule, but most will walk - often barefoot - for up to 6 weeks or more to reach this sacred place. In the 700 years since the Sheikh's death, the pilgrimage has evolved into an amalgam of Saint cult and ancient ritual.
By tradition, the departure of the pilgrims from their remote villages is governed by the waxing and waning of the moon.
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