Stand in the monastery's courtyard beneath the medieval bulge of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and you have a cross-section of Christendom. The adjacent Egyptian Coptic monastery peeks through the entrance gate, and a Russian Orthodox gable, a Lutheran bell tower, and the crosses of Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches break the skyline.
The robed Ethiopian monks live in tiny cells in the rooftop monastery. One of the modern paintings in their small, dark church depicts the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, as described in the Bible (I Kings 10). Ethiopian tradition holds that more passed between the two than the Bible is telling—she came to "prove" his wisdom "with hard questions"—and that their supposed union produced an heir to both royal houses. In Solomon's court, the prince was met with hostility by the king's legitimate offspring, says the legend, and the young man was sent home—with the precious Ark of the Covenant as a gift.
To this day (say the Ethiopians), it remains in a sealed crypt in their homeland. The script in the paintings is Ge'ez, the ecclesiastical language of the Ethiopian church. Taking in the rooftop view and the church will occupy about 15 minutes. The exit, via a short stairway to a lower level, deposits you in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.