Aksum accepted Christianity in the 4th Century AD – 330 years after the birth of Christ, to be exact. This makes the Aksumite kingdom among the first few states in the world that adopted Christianity early on. Ever since, Aksum has remained the Christian capital of Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) is one of the oldest Christian institutions in the world. Throughout its history, the EOC has been not only a source of spiritual guidance but also a symbol of national unity. In times of peace and war, it served as an effective force of public mobilization. No other institution – political or social – in Ethiopia has established homestead-level connection with the people. Even today the church is closer – physically or mentally – to the people than courts, police stations, schools or clinics. It can also be argued that the strengths and dysfunctions of the EOC have been factors in the rise and fall of the Aksumite kingdom.
The Nine Saints
Although Christianity as a state religion was introduced in the 4th century, its expansion is attributed to the Nine Saints of the 6th century. The effort is, thus, sometimes referred to as the “Second Evangelization” of Abyssinia. Despite being of Middle Eastern origin, the Saints are known by their Ethiopian Christian names: Abune Aftse, Abune Alef, Abune Aregawi, Abune Gerima, Abune Guba, Abune Likanos, Abune Penteleon, Abune Tsahma, and Abune Yemaeta. Establishing their respective monasteries across Tigrai, a northern Ethiopian province to which Aksum belongs, the Syrian Saints tirelessly taught Gospel. The churches they established have become not only centers of religious scholarship and artistic excellence but also repositories of magnificent royal treasures and ecclesiastical manuscripts.