Christianity in Ethiopia
The Ethiopian Orthodox Union church, an autonomous Christian Church headed by a patriarch and closely related to the Coptic Church of Egypt, was the state church of Ethiopia until 1974. About 62.8 percent (Orthodox 43.5%, Protestant 18.6% and Catholic 0.7 %) of the people of Ethiopia are Christians, and Christianity is predominant in the north. All the southern regions have Muslim majorities, who represent about 33.9 percent of the country's population.
The south also contains considerable numbers of animists. Most of the Christian, belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, whose 4th Century beginnings came long before Europe accepted Christianity. A further small percentage about 2.7% of the population adheres to traditional and 0.6% other beliefs, including Judaism. A sect known as Beta Israel or Falashas, who practice a type of Judaism that probably dates back to contact with early Arabian Jews, were airlifted to Israel in 1991 during
Ethiopia's civil war.
The kingdom of Aksum officially adopted Christianity in the 4th century. But it wasn't before the 12th century (and up until the 15th) that Christianity spread, along with the Christian state, to the highlands of central Ethiopia. A remarkable collection of rock-hewn churches dates from this era. They were associated with monks, who were considered on a level with saints and whose lives were often recorded in writing. These monuments and manuscripts are still very important today as the living memory of Ethiopia's Christians.
Ethiopia has a rich history that predates the Old Testament. According to the Old Testament, The Queen of Sheba was born in Axum, but travelled to Israel to meet King Solomon. They had a son named Menelik, who later became the first emperor of Ethiopia and adopted Christianity in Ethiopia about the beginning of 4th Century long before Europe accepted Christianity. Menelik brought the original Ark of the Covenant back to Ethiopia from Israel. Today, the Arc, which once housed the Ten Commandments, remains well hidden in Axum. It is guarded by a select group of monks, whose sole commitment is to protect the sacred vessel. Ethiopia's religious tradition is reflected in the day-to-day lifestyle of the people, and nowhere does this spiritual energy echo more than in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.