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Christianity in Ethiopia dates back to the 4th century. It was brought to the region by a Christian captive, Frumentius, who later became Ethiopia's first bishop. Frumentius was consecrated by Athanasius the Great in Alexandria, an act which placed the Ethiopian church under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Church of Egypt. Monasticism was introduced towards the end of the 5th century by nine monks from Syria who are believed to have translated the Bible into the local language, Ge'ez. From the 7th century Ethiopia was cut off from the rest of the Christian world by the Islamic conquest of North Africa. Chronic skirmishes between Christians and Muslims led to the outbreak of civil war in the 16th century and the sacking of monasteries and the burning of churches. In the 17th century the conversion of the Emperor to Roman Catholicism and the attempt to impose his faith on his subjects produced fierce resistance and the martyrdom of many thousands of Christians. In 1959, the Ethiopian church became independent from Egypt when an Ethiopian patriarch was elected.


The finest examples of Ethiopian symbolism and iconography are to be found at the Cathedral of Axum, the site of the oldest church in Ethiopia. The cathedral is lavishly decorated with paintings of scenes such as the coming of the Ark of the Covenant, the Virgin and Infant, and the nine saints.  

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