The Ethiopians (or Abyssinians) represent the first Christian country in Africa. This Church, with its Alexandrian origins, is distinguished by its having preserved Old Testament customs such as circumcision and the Levitical laws governing food and ritual purity.
Their community, imbued with the monastic spirit, has been present in Jerusalem since the 4th century, contemporaneous with the arrival of St. Jerome.
In 1283 they had their first bishop, an indication of the important rights that they enjoyed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre throughout the medieval period, rights which, however, were lost during the Ottoman era.
Today a small community of monks lives in poverty in cells on the roof above the Chapel of St. Helena, a monastery complex that they call Deir es Sultan (“of the Sultan”).
At Easter many Ethiopian men and women come to Jerusalem, cloaked in white stoles, and with dances and songs in the ancient Ge’ez language celebrate on Saturday evening the ritual “searching for Christ’s body”.