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Ethiopia’s Meskel festival: Bonfires, robes and crosses

A priest stands in Meskel Square

Ethiopians are celebrating the annual Meskel festival, the first big festival of the Ethiopian religious year.

According to Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition, the national holiday marks the finding of the cross that Jesus was crucified on.

Thousands celebrated the eve of the festival, known as Demera, by gathering in Meskel Square in the heart of the capital city, Addis Ababa.

Ethiopians in white robes take part in the celebrations

Demera, which falls on 26 September, is a colourful occasion, attracting scores of believers in dressed in robes.

They are joined by hundreds of priests and deacons from churches around the city, who bring drums and ornate crosses used in religious ceremonies.

People celebrating Meskel

Orthodox cross in picture

People play the drums during Meskel celebrations

Other priests are seen with traditional umbrellas used in the churches.

Priests post for a photograph

Priests celebrate Meskel

Before sunset, a huge pyre in the centre of the square is lit.

The bonfire signifies the efforts made by St Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, to find the cross while in Jerusalem in the 4th Century.

The main pyre is seen in this photo

It was in Jerusalem, the story goes, that St Helena was advised to light a fire that would show her where to look.

The smoke from that fire pointed to the place where the cross was buried.


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St Helena is then said to have given pieces of the cross to all the churches, and the Ethiopian Church still claims to have its own piece.

People watch the bonfire in Addis Ababa

All images taken by the BBC’s Amensisa Negera and Kalkidan Yibeltal and subject to copyright

Ethiopia’s Meskel festival: Bonfires, robes and crosses

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