Africa in Jerusalem - The Ethiopian Church - There can be few monasteries as strange as Deir es-Sultan, home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. To come across it without warning is an unusual experience.
One walks up a flight of steps behind the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, through a gateway in an old stone wall, and suddenly a tiny African village is revealed: a group of low mud huts huddled together from which comes the clatter of cooking pots. From the middle of a courtyard rises a small and elegant dome. Two priests sit idly chatting on a stone bench. It takes a little time to realize that this is the roof of the Holy Sepulchre itself and that the dome is giving light to the chapel of Saint Helena below, one of the most ancient parts of the complex which make up the most sacred of Christian sites in Jerusalem.
According to tradition, the Ethiopians were converted to Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries by monks, some of whom came from Egypt and some from Syria. These first missionaries found the way prepared for them by the fact that there had been ancient contacts between the Holy Land and Ethiopia. The existence of the ancient Jewish community of Ethiopia is another indication of these contacts. So too is the fact that in the Ethiopian Church there are many features which are peculiarly close to the traditions of Judaism and which are not found elsewhere in Christianity. For example, the Ethiopian Church still practices the circumcision of males after eight days; Saturday in the Ethiopian tradition is a second holy day little less important than Sunday; and in the churches of the Ethiopians the Ark of the Lord features largely. Again the tradition of dancing which is important to Ethiopian ritual and liturgy seems to owe its inspiration at least in part to the dance of David before the Ark.
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Situated monastery of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the old city of Jerusalem.
The Ethiopian Church is a charming island of tranquility 10 minutes walk north of Jaffa Road in busy downtown Jerusalem, and a living remnant of biblical faith and lore.
The lion over its gate is the symbol of this community, which teaches that Ethiopian Christians descended from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, who gave her a banner depicting a Lion of Judah when she visited Jerusalem (1 Kings 10:1-10).
The church was built in 1893 by the Ethiopian emperor Johannes I. He wanted his people to have a presence in modern Jerusalem in addition to their church near the Holy Sepulcher.
Visitors remove their shoes before entering the church, surrounded by its shady garden. The altar is at its heart, to be seen but not touched as you walk around the domed structure, taking in the hanging lamps and paintings, and watching the community at prayer at the appointed hours.
Ethiopian Church Jerusalem
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The Ethiopian Church in Central Jerusalem