Music, Art and Church Organization

Music and Art

The coming of the Nine Saints inaugurated a new era in the liturgical life of the Ethiopian Church and in cultural development in general. Music and art Flourished. To Yared, an Aksumite scholar of the time, is attributed the creation of Ethiopian church music. He was a disciple of the nine saints, probably of Aregawi, and composed music in three modes, which is still used in the Ethiopian church. The hymnary attributed to him is rich in inspiration and expression: perhaps it is one of the best of its kind in the orient. The influence of the nine saints extended also to art and architecture. The ruins of basilicas found in the ancient cities of Axum, Adulis and Hawlti may show a resemblance to Syriac churches. Of Aregawi at Debra Damo is the oldest existing example of Christian architecture in Ethiopia, and traces of this influence can be seen in it.


Church Organization

After the expansion of Christianity there was at least four dioceses in Ethiopia, each headed by a bishop. The chief of these was obviously the metropolitan of Axum. The second most important diocese was Adulis; it was through this ancient port that Christianity was first introduced to Ethiopian. As we have already mentioned, all the bishops were of Egyptian origin. They were closely associated both dogmatically and judicially with the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria. The latter sent Egyptian bishops to Ethiopia whenever necessary until the rise of Islam. To perpetuate his Egyptian suzerainty over the Ethiopian church, it became necessary to adduce legal justification. The Egyptians therefore inserted the forty-second Pseudo-Canon of the Council of Nicea, prohibiting the Ethiopians from occupying hierarchical positions. The authenticity of this Article was highly suspect to the Ethiopian clergy, but was nevertheless respected until the thirteenth century, when a new wave of independence arose. Once again it become necessary for the Egyptians, who did not wish to relinquish their prerogative, to renew the prohibition, and the same Article was inserted in the Fetha Negest, the politico- religious code under which the country was governed for more than six hundred years. Thus, an Egyptian bishop always remained at the head of the Ethiopian Church from its foundation up to the second half of the 20th century. This is a unique phenomenon in the history of the Christian Church.


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Written by Professor Sergew Hable Sellassie and Professor Tadesse Tamerat


Addis Ababa –December 1970. A publication of the EOTC