The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (Amharic: ርዕሰ አድባራት ቅድስተ ቅዱሳን ድንግል ማሪያም ፅዮን Re-ese Adbarat Kidiste Kidusan Dingel Maryam Ts’iyon) of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the most important church in Ethiopia, and is located in the town of Axum in the Tigray Province. The original church is believed to have been built during the reign of Ezana, the first Christian emperor of Ethiopia, during the 4th century AD, and has been rebuilt several times since then.
Since its founding during the episcopacy of Frumentius (known in Ethiopia as Abune Selama Kesatay Birhan or “Our Father of Peace the Revealer of Light”) the Church of Mary of Zion has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice. Its first putative destruction occurred at the hands of Queen Gudit during the 10th century. Its second, confirmed, destruction occurred in the 16th century at the hands of Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, after which it was rebuilt by the Emperor Gelawdewos, then further rebuilt and enlarged by Fasilides during 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”.
The dome and bell tower of the new Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, built by Emperor Haile Selassie in the 1950s
In the 1950s the Emperor Haile Selassie built a new modern Cathedral that was open to both men and women next to the old Cathedral of Our Lady Mary of Zion. The old church remains accessible only to men, as Mary, symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant allegedly resting in its chapel, is the only woman allowed within its compound.
The church is a significant center of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, especially during the main Festival of Zion Maryam on 30 November (21 Hidar on the Ethiopian calendar).