AXUM, Ethiopia -- The Ark of the Covenant was built by Moses to hold the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments -- at the command of God himself.
For centuries in Jerusalem, it was the literal dwelling of the Most High, secreted in the darkness of the Holy of Holies.
Then, it disappeared. For more than 2,000 years, the whereabouts of the Ark have been shrouded in mystery, despite countless attempts to track it down.
There are many theories as to the whereabouts of the holy relic. Some say it's buried under the Temple Mount and others contend that it was carried to Egypt before being lost to history.
Wherever it may be, the lost Ark of the Covenant has become one of the most sought after Christian relics in history.
Consulting an Expert
On a recent trip to Africa, CBN News met with Bob Cornuke, an explorer and founder of the Biblical Archaeology Studies and Exploration Institute.
Cornuke has been investigating a little-known theory about the Ark for over 10 years and agreed to take CBN News on another fact-finding adventure.
As a former crime scene investigator in Los Angeles, Cornuke made a name for himself by searching for biblical relics based on the same techniques he used in law enforcement.
Using the Bible as a literal guide, he has traced the route of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, searched for Noah's Ark, and probed the mystery surrounding the true location of Mount Sinai, among other things.
One particular theory about the Ark claims that just before the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem in 586 BC, Levitical priests moved the Ark to Egypt to save it from being destroyed. After more than a century there, sequestered on an island in the Nile called "Elephantine Island," it was moved again, all the way up the Nile river to the source of the Blue Nile -- Lake Tana in Ethiopia.
On a Remote Island
The belief is that the Ark was hidden on a remote island in the huge lake, where it was cared for by monks in a tent similar to the tabernacle in the wilderness.
The monks living on Tana Kirkos Island have not changed their way of life, or worship, for thousands of years. Even today, they dress in animal skins and live a primitive existence farming the small island. They also spend more than three hours a day in prayer.
The monks showed CBN News instruments that were said to be brought with the Ark from Solomon's temple. One was a large bowl, or "gomer" that was used to collect the blood from the sacrifice before it was sprinkled on the Ark.
According to the monks, their ancestors safeguarded the Ark on Tana Kirkos for 800 years. In that time, Ethiopia became a Christian nation, and after that, the king retrieved the Ark and took it to Axum, which was at that time the capitol of the kingdom.
The city of Axum is a dusty small town that sits in the northern part of Ethiopia. But it was once a thriving center of trade in the ancient world. Ethiopian kings built giant obelisks to mark their graves, which rival the pyramids in engineering genius.
The obelisks are called stelae, and many locals believe these massive monoliths were put into place by the power of the Ark itself. Legend has it that the Ark was taken there in about 400 A.D., and was placed in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion.
The only man allowed to see the Ark is a monk called "The Guardian," who, once chosen for the job, is never allowed to leave the church enclosure -- about a quarter acre.
Cornuke described why someone had never tried to steal the Ark, or at least sneak in to verify it's presence inside the church.
"It's like a bunker," he said. "It is made out of cinderblocks, and they tell me that as you go in the front door, there is a corridor that goes to the left. Then there's a corridor that makes a sharp right turn, then another sharp right turn coming back to where they claim is the Ark of the Covenant, sitting in a big stone sarcophagus box with a silver inlaid ornate sleeve."
Cornuke said if the Ark had ever tried to be stolen, it could not make the corners in the tight hallways.
"So people say, 'Why doesn't somebody go in and get it?' It would be pretty hard to bring it out because they actually built the building around this object that they call the Ark of the Covenant," he added.
CBN News arrived in Axum on the holiest day on the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar -- the festival of Timkat. It is a day when tens of thousands of the faithful make a pilgrimage to Axum, and a replica of the Ark is brought out of this church and paraded through the streets of the city.
The people sing and dance before the procession, and the party lasts all night long.
Timkat is like Easter and Christmas all wrapped into one. It is their festival of the Epiphany and their most important holiday on the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar.
Old Testament-Style Worship
Women crowd into the city and spend all night worshipping, singing songs and praying. The women bowed and ululated by candlelight, and there was no doubt it was a privilege to be able to experience such a special occasion.
The next morning these revelers continued the celebration with songs and dances that haven't changed in a millennia. It was a fascinating look into Old Testament-style worship that can't be found anywhere else in the world.
At the end of the day, there was no way to know for certain if the story was true or not. But one thing is for sure: there is no doubt whatsoever in the minds of Ethiopian Christians -- they have the Ark of the Covenant, and they really don't care if the rest of the world believes it or not.
Cornuke thought a moment before explaining what he thought of the theory.
"Well, we don't know where the Ark is," he admitted. "There are many tantalizing theories as to where the Ark could be primarily because it just disappeared in history, it just fell off the map."
*Originally aired July 25, 2009.