History of the Ethiopian Church in West Jerusalem
The Ethiopian community evolved around the Haneviim corridor in the 1880’s and the church was built along Ethiopia Street, that was purchased in 1888 just north of Hanevim Street. Ethiopia Street bought in 1888, just north of Street of the Prophets. Under the initiative of Empress Taytu Betul, Ethiopian Empress Taytu Betul was instrumental in encouraging other Ethiopian nobles and wealthy individuals to purchase homes on Ethiopia Street and Street of the Prophets, which still belong to the community to this day.
The Ethiopian Church was planned by German protestant architect Conrad Schick, the same architect who created a number of very important buildings still standing on Hanevim Street such as the Tabor House and the Swedish Theological Seminary as well as several unique models of the Old City of Jerusalem, that were, coincidentally, recently purchased by CMJ Israel and are now on display at the Christ Church Heritage Center in the Old city.
There are many similarities between the Ethiopian church and traditions with early Judaism. First of all, the church as built with a concentric plan with the holy of holies located in the middle of the church, similar to that of the Jewish Temple of 2000 years ago. The priest that is leading the prayers (done in the traditional Ethiopian language of Ge’ez) is the only person allowed inside the Holy of Holies.
It is said that the Ethiopian Christians trace their ancestry to King Mamlek, himself a descendent of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
Traditions in the Ethiopian church
One of the most visible traditions within the Ethiopian church is that all visitors must take off their shoes upon entering the church. Also during prayers, worshippers must stand for a long time and they use a special Ethiopian cane, often decorated in special traditional patterns that are used to support their chins. Ethiopian drums are often used in processions and have special straps that enable people to comfortably carry and play them for long periods of time.
“Exodus” the Movie
The scene from the film Exodus starring Paul Newman where he was running away from the British Forces was filmed in the courtyard of the Ethiopian church.
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Elisa Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share, their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.