Ethiopia Discovering Its Christian Roots

Source: FSSPX News

The remains of a 1,700-year-old Christian church were discovered in Ethiopia, confirming the ancient tradition of an early arrival of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa.

The remains of a Christian place of worship dating back to the 4th century AD have been uncovered in Beta Samati, an ancient city once belonging to the Aksumite Empire, Smithsonian Magazine reports in its December 10, 2019 edition.

Originally built by the Romans for administrative purposes, it was probably during the time of Emperor Constantine the Great that the building was converted into a church, the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa known to date.

The site, which covers an area of ​​approximately 500 square meters, dates from the time when Christianity became the official religion of the Aksumite empire.

For archaeologists, the discovery “confirms the Ethiopian tradition that Christianity arrived early in an area nearly 5,000 km from Rome, and suggests that the new religion quickly spread through long trade networks distance that linked the Mediterranean via the Red Sea to Africa and South Asia.”

“This find is to my knowledge the earliest physical evidence for a church in Ethiopia, as well as all of sub-Saharan Africa,” says Aaron Butts, a professor of Semitic and Egyptian languages at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Michael Harrower of Johns Hopkins University, the archaeologist leading the team, says that “The empire of Aksum was one of the world’s most influential ancient civilizations, but it remains one of the least widely known.” 

Secular and religious objects were found, including a gold ring, figurines representing beasts, crosses, incense burners, as well as tokens which were probably used for commerce and the administration of the city. The most notable finding remains a carved stone pendant, adorned with a cross and marked “venerable” in ancient Ethiopian. Near the eastern facade of the church, archaeologists have deciphered an inscription saying, “may Christ be favorable to us.”

According to Ethiopian tradition, it was around 330 that Christianity became established in Ethiopia, thanks to the apostolic zeal of a certain Frumentius sent by St. Athanasius to establish and govern the nascent Church in the country.