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Gishen Mariam

Gishen Mariam Festival around Dessie; October 1 While the whole country celebrates the finding of the True Cross on (September 26th & 27th ), the commemoration of the deposition of the right arm of the True Cross at the remote mountain monastery of Gishen Mariam (in the present Sothern Wollo Zone, Amhara Region), makes the celebration there especially colorful. The occasion is observed with the largest and most spectacular intensity on October 1st each year.

From some undetermined time, it was the practice that when the Ethiopian emperor assumed the throne, his brothers and other male relatives would be taken to a royal prison, where they would henceforth live until either they were called forth to become the new emperor or they died. Some traditions state this began during the Zagwe dynasty, others even earlier; the first certain mention of the practice was during the reign of Jin Asgad, who confined his brothers and his own sons to Amba Geshen.

The use Amba Geshen as a prison was ended by Emperor Na’od, but Manoel de Almeida mentions that “those who were there before” were guarded until the reign of Emperor Gelawdewos, when only the descendants of Emperor Takla Maryam continued to be kept under watch because of their treachery against Emperor Baeda Maryam I.

Because it was a natural fortress, the Emperors also kept the imperial treasury there even after it was no longer a royal prison. The Muslims, under Ahmed Gragn, made several attempts to capture Amba Geshen: the Futuh al-Habasha describes the first (in November 1531) and second (in 1533); his final attempt in 1540 was successful, and he put the entire garrison and inhabitants to death. Thomas Pakenham notes that contemporary Ethiopians believe that the True Cross was buried atop Amba Geshen by St Helena of Constantinople.

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March 4, 2015


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