St Mary of Zion: Africa’s Oldest Church

St Mary of Zion church (

The Church of St Mary of Zion with the Treasury containing the Ark of the Covenant in the background (left) is the oldest church (Christian church) on the African continent. First built in the 4th century AD in Aksum, Ethiopia. It is the most important church in Ethiopia.

In the 4th century AD, the Axumite prince Ezana, the first Christian ruler of the Kingdom of Axum (Present-day Eritrea and Ethiopia), was instructed in Christianity by two Syrian monks shipwrecked on the Red Sea coast. The prince promoted Christianity when he became King Ezana, and he is regarded as a saint in both the Ethiopian Orthodox and Catholic churches. The original church is believed to have been built during the reign of Ezana, and has been rebuilt several times since then, including during the reign of Fasilides in the 17th century. St. Mary of Zion was the traditional place where Ethiopian Emperors came to be crowned. And indeed, if an Emperor was not crowned at Axum, or did not at least have his coronation ratified by a special service at St. Mary of Zion, he could not be referred to by the title of “Atse” or Emperor of Ethiopia.

8 thoughts on “St Mary of Zion: Africa’s Oldest Church

  1. Great article. I heard one of the first churches was in Africa, but I didn’t know it was in that part of the continent. Aksum/Axum got my attention last year when I saw the Unjust Perceptions: Ethiopia documentary on YouTube since that’s the same city with the Obelisk AKA The ORIGINAL Leaning Tower of Pisa in it.


  2. St Mary of Zion in Axum is NOT Africa’s oldest church. The world’s oldest church is in Africa in Egypt and believed to be built where the Holy Family fled when the angel Gabriel told them to flee to Egypt. There are several churches older than St Mary of Axum in Egypt.


    1. Dear Dr. Rachel, Thank you for your comment, and for bringing this up to our attention. Could you please share the names of the churches you are referring to? It will be greatly appreciated.


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