Axum was the first country to adopt Christianity as the State religion (pre-dating the Roman Empire), in approximately 330AD. Legend speaks of two young slaves from Syria, Frumentius and Aedesius, who were sole survivors of a shipwreck and taken in by Axum’s royal family . After converting the young King Ezana, Frumentius was sent to Eygpt to be appointed as the first bishop of Axum by the Prelate of Alexandria, thereby setting up a formal relationship between the Egyptian Coptic Church and the Ethiopian Church that survives to the present. Because of its early establishment, Ethiopia’s isolation from the rest of the Christian world for several centuries, and the association with Judaism, religion as practiced in Axum has strong associations with both Judaism and Islam, including the celebration of the Sabbath (Saturday),regulation on the preparation and consumption of food, and other cultural practices.
The purity of religious practice has been preserved because of the city’s status as the religious and ceremonial centre of the country, conferring the spiritual legitimacy of the Solomonic line. Because the centre of government moved south with the decline of the Axumite Empire, political and economic pressures for change were avoided.
Religious structures on the Processional Route
A number of significant religious endowments line the ceremonial route taken by the new king on his way to the coronation in the cathedral of Tsion Maryam. These include one of the oldest known churches in the world, the plan of which has striking similarities with the oldest churches in southern Egypt. The Tomb of Bazen (King Balthazar of the Three Magi) forges a link between the birth of Christ and the formal adoption of Christianity.

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