Meskel, an important religious event celebrated among Orthodox believers in Ethiopia and its neighboring country, Eritrea, commemorates the discovery of the “true cross” upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. This discovery is attributed to Saint Helena, who found the cross in Palestine during the fourth century.
Legend has it that Saint Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I, was guided to the cross by the smoke from a ceremonial bonfire. A fragment of this cross was believed to have been brought back to Ethiopia.
On the eve of Meskel, elaborate preparations take place. Worshippers construct large pyres in streets and church courtyards for a ceremony called “demera,” marking the beginning of the festivities. At sunset, after hours of dancing and singing, these bonfires, adorned with crosses and adorned with indigenous flowers, are set ablaze all across the country.
The largest of these bonfires, towering several meters high, is ignited in Meskel Square, a vast esplanade situated in the heart of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Tens of thousands of congregants, along with Orthodox priests and bishops dressed in opulent fabrics, gather to witness this momentous