Oral tradition suggests that on the site of an earlier shrine the church of Tsion Maryam was built, but the site’s sanctity has prevented archeological verification. When new stormwater pipes were installed, the only excavations were to the north of the cathedral podium. This confirmed the first church’s northern edge, but did not go deeper into it.
At the time of the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition in 1906, the compound comprised a cluster of six interconnected courtyards. These were remodeled, with only the treasury building remaining north of the church from the three courtyards and their structures. A new building was built to house the Covenant Ark, which only a specially designated guardian of the monk can see. This monk carries the Ark at major festivals, wrapped in an elaborately decorated fabric.
A new cathedral was built north of the old church in the 1960s and is open to women, unlike its predecessor, who can also visit the museum housing the church’s treasures. To the southeast of the sacred precincts there is an accommodation cluster for priests, monks and nuns, many of whom are engaged in making church artifacts such as icons, manuscripts and hand-woven fabrics.