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by regional princes in the polity at large. And, at base, there were the parishes, staffed by priests and deacons who were at the same time farmers - parishes in which agriculture and the liturgical calendar dominated life.

A historical synopsis5

The foundations of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church were laid in the three centuries following the conversion of the court. The Bible and the liturgy were translated into Ge'ez, the common language of Aksum, a Semitic language related to the languages of South Arabia. Ethiopian tradition attributes the introduction of monasticism to 'the Nine Saints', Syrians in origin, whose arrival is usually dated to the late fifth century in the aftermath of the council of Chalcedon, from which they were dissidents.6 They are said to have founded an array of monasteries, still active, across what is now northern Ethiopia. Tradition also attributes the origins of church music, the practice of liturgical dance and the composition of numerous hymns to St Yared, who flourished in the first half of the sixth century. In this period also lie the origins of the practice of pilgrimage to the Holy Places of Palestine and Egypt. The period was brought to an end by the rise of Islam.

Not until the thirteenth century did the Christian kingdom re-emerge to the full light of history, with the seizure of the throne in 1270 by a dynasty claiming both the legitimate mantle of the Aksumite rulers and descent from the biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Zagwe, whom the Solomonics displaced, had made an enduring mark on Ethiopian Christianity through the creation of a remarkable set of eleven rock-hewn churches at a site later named after the dynasty's most distinguished member, Lalibala. Solomonic renewal in the state was preceded by renewal in the church, which expressed itself in a vigorous monastic movement. Evangelising by monks led to one of the most notable periods in the expansion of the Ethiopian Church, into the heart of the central plateau, and beyond the Blue Nile to the south, staking out for the church the provinces of Bagemder and Gojjam, which it now views as its heartland.

For the first century of the new dynasty, conflict marked the relations between the royal court and the monks. However, charisma was slowly

5 A useful general account is to be found in S. Munro-Hay, 'Christianity. History of Christianity', in Encyclopedia Mthiopica, 1, 717-23.

6 For a judicious statement of the standard interpretation, see Taddesse, Church and state, 23-5. More sceptical, pointing out that the hagiographies of the saints were all composed one thousand years after the period to which, ostensibly, they pertain, is Munro-Hay, 'Christianity'.

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