The Timkat Festival

The annual festival, meant to replicate Christ’s baptism in the river Jordan, takes place on the 19th January (or the 20th in a leap year). Timkat, also written as Timket, literally translates to ‘baptism’.

The main festivities are usually held in the former Emperor Fasilides bathhouse, with smaller satellite celebrations springing up across the land.

Weeks before the festivity begins, water around the castle city of Gonder is rerouted to the bathhouse, and the solitary structure sat in the centre of a bone dry pool, is slowly submerged in water.

Gonder, one of the most significant historical cities in Ethiopia, and a spiritual hub of the country, is the epicentre for the festivities.

Worshipers travel far and wide to attend. Ancient structures burst to life, and for a short while are returned to their former glory. 

The atmosphere surrounding the site in anticipation for Timkat is palpable, and a buzz can be felt around the winding city roads and within the shanty style shacks spread across the city. 

Timkat Festival in Ethiopia

The Festivities of Timkat

As the day approaches and the pool fills, the Tabot, a model of the Ark of the Covenant, is delicately wrapped in rich cloths, in preparation for its procession to the bathhouse.

The Tabot is rarely seen by the laity, and is seldom removed from it’s shire within the church.

Beginning at 2am, the clergy, adorned in a brightly coloured gown leads the procession towards the church for the divine liturgy. He commences celebrations by blessing the bath house.

As dawn approaches and coral streaks spread across the sky, the priest dips his metal Aspergillum into the steamy water and sprinkles droplets of the (now blessed) holy water over the cohort gathered at his feet, while many submerge their heads into the pool.

By noon, the sun sits high in the sky, and large crowds have assembled at the site to receive blessings. The congregation form a queue around the pool, awaiting the priest's blessing.

At this point, the replica ark is escorted back and laid to rest for the remainder of the year. As traditional music fills the air, stoic worship is replaced with dancing, and the final celebration of the daytakes the form of a feast. 

Fasilides Bath in Gondar Ethiopia

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