Editor’s note: Ethiopia believes that the most important historical,
powerfu, and religious artifact, the Ark of the Covenant, is located in the
northern province of Tigre. In this second part of a series, “The Searchers,” Corbett interviews Prince Stephanos (Stephen Mengesha), Emperor Haile Selassie’s pet great-grandson.
“If it’s found, and if it’s such a sacred item for the Jewish faith, what’s
to stop Israel from waging war to get it back? It’s not a matter of
diplomatic negotiations or going to the United Nations. This is something
the world Jewry around the globe believes it’s necessary to build the Third
Temple and if that’s how important it is, the chances of Israel going to
war to get it (are greatly increased).” — Prince Stephanos (Stephen
Mengesha), April 6, 1990.
He was unpretentious.
A smiling, affable man, who introduced himself as Stephen Mengesha, was a
Toronto car salesman.
“Steve’s my name.”
In early 1990, while doing research for a series of newspaper articles on
the Ethiopian famines, he became a friend, and would relate that the Ark of
the Covenant was the Horn of Africa nation’s greatest treasure.
It was a blockbuster.
Of course, I’d earlier read in Grant Jeffrey’s paperback, “Armageddon -
Appoitment With Destiny,” of his conversations with Prince Stephanos, the
favorite great-grandson of the late Emperor Haile Selassie, who was
murdered by dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam and his thugs in 1975.
He also related to this investigative reporter of how the original Ark,
constructed by Moses’ chief carpenter, traveled from Solomon’s Temple in
Jerusalem to Ethiopia with one of Solomon’s offspring, Menelik I. It has
been in Ethiopia ever since, according to the Ethiopian royal chronicles,
and its holy book, the Kebra Negast.
On Saturday, April 28, 1990, the Prince spoke about the searches for the
Ark, which have ranged from Mussolini to the Israelis:
CORBETT: What’s the importance of the Ark?
PRINCE: The building of the Third Temple is the cornerstone of the Jewish
faith and the coming of all Jews to Israel. Finding the Ark of the Covenant
is paramount for this to happen and the coming of their Messiah. So even
though it’s unspoken, they’re on the look out for it, and many times they
have explored the possibility of the Ethiopian claim. It has been pursued
by various people throughout history prior to the Italian occupation
(through the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church), and after the
restoration of the Emperor to the throne (in 1941). Even today, they’re
still looking for it.
CORBETT: Is it possible there’s an Ark on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem?
PRINCE: The lack of an Ark being mentioned in the book, “In The Shadow of
the Temple,” isn’t evidence the Israelis don’t care about it. After all
it’s the cornerstone. If you’re going to build a temple, you have to have
something to put in it and no where in the Jewish traditions does it say
that God is going to bring it down from heaven. There’s nothing of that
nature being mentioned in prophecy. The building of the Third Temple I just
mentioned requires the Ark inside it or else it would be a meaningless
CORBETT: I’ve read, probably in one of Grant Jeffrey’s books, that during
the excavations underneath the Temple Mount that they’ve spotted something that looks like the Ark. Is this a duplicate.
PRINCE: There is a duplicate Ark. The rabbinical council knows about it.
CORBETT: There are lots of duplicates around. Isn’t that true?
PRINCE: Yes. Finding the original Ark of the Covenant is a interest by the
Catholic Church and the Pope during the 1936-1940 Ethiopian occupation by
Italy and Mussolini and there’s good indication that the Catholic Church
was looking for it.
CORBETT: Was that one of Mussolini’s aims?
PRINCE: Not Mussolini’s, but he was persuaded by the Pope and, of course,
the Pope has been criticized for blessing Mussolini’s mission to Ethiopia
because of that.
CORBETT: What about Hitler, did he have any interest in the Ark?
CORBETT: The hit movie, “The Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was based on
Hitler’s obsession with finding religious artifacts such as the Ark. Was
PRINCE: I never heard of Hitler’s interest in it. That’s pure fantasy, but
it would make a good movie, wouldn’t it.
Just as in Solomon’s Temple, the Ark was placed in the Holy of Holies in
the dusty town of Aksum in Tigre province of northern Ethiopia.
CORBETT: How were these boys selected?
PRINCE: I have no idea. Because it’s a holy shrine, there’s only
speculation about the tradition, but it’s possible the High Priest’s family
had the privilege since the line of Zadok brought it from Jerusalem to
Aksum. Their identity was, undoubtedly, kept secret to prevent harming the
CORBETT: In ancient times the young boy stayed with the Ark until he died.
If that tradition ended, when did it end?
PRINCE: Again there is no trace when it ended. But there is evidence that
it did exist. Life in Ethiopia was probably 38 years, so there’s a good
possibility the kid lasted to be over 80 years old. The average age was
less than 40, however, so the cycle of the change of life and replacement
of this boy could have taken place, as often as every 25 to 30 years.
CORBETT: Has it ever been hidden?
PRINCE: Yes, in the 14th century, the high priests and the guardians of the
Ark took it away in the mountains. They, supposedly, took it to a monastery
near the Blue Nile Falls. The priests from that monastery still claim the
possibility that it never went back to Aksum. They profess to have it.
However, there is good evidence that they don’t have it. One thing we know
is the Ark never left Ethiopia.
CORBETT: After Queen Judith burned the church down, was the Ark buried in
the ground in the catacombs under the church site?
PRINCE: Again, we’re on the threshold of the 21st century so when we’re
talking about Queen Judith, we’re going back to the 14th century, and
that’s a long time ago, so after the church was rebuilt it could have been
placed back on the altar and then it could have been removed from the altar
for safekeeping when the Muslims invaded in the 16th century, for they
burned all the churches. Vasco Da Gama’s brother, Christovao, was sent by
Portugal to save Ethiopian Christians from the Muslims and these Christian
Crusaders restored the Christian dynasty.
CORBETT: Describe the church where it’s supposedly buried?
PRINCE: I have been to the church, but I haven’t been to the basement, in
fact if there’s a basement, which contains the Ark, that would be a secret.
In 1993, Prince Stephanos returned to Aksum and was able to photograph the stairwell leading to the Ark.
Even though others have claimed to have seen the Ark, such conjecture is
NEXT: Corbett’s expedition to Ethiopia in 1990 and what he and a business
partner found; the strange holy book, “The Kebra Negast”; Graham Hancock’s encounters in Aksum; and other searchers of the world’s most important historic, most powerful, and religious artifact.
Would you like to be a part of Corbett’s 1999 expedition to Aksum? E-mail
him at email@example.com.