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ODE TO THE PAST (with the occasional nod to the present)

The legend of Ezana

In researching The Tenth Saint, I found myself drawn into the early beginnings of Christianity in Ethiopia and, in particular, the man who brought the religion into the mainstream.

Christianity existed in Ethiopia since the first century but really took off in 330 CE, under the rule of King Ezana, known as the first Christian king. Aksum, the seat of Ezana's rule and a powerful trade center in the day, was the first Christian state in Africa.

Ezana and his court make an important appearance in the historical subplot of The Tenth Saint. I am thrilled when readers say Ezana is a particularly memorable character in the book, as in reality he was bigger than life. Judging by the inscriptions left on stelae he erected, he was a rather robust monarch, intoxicated by the power of his military prowess and the glory of victory.

His military campaigns (such as the one in Meroe, depicted in the book) were almost categorically successful. He was a powerful and charismatic ruler, and a strong strategist, yet he credited God for his victories. Interestingly, Ezana is also credited with finding the Ark of the Covenant during one of those campaigns, and bringing it to Aksum, where it is rumored to reside today (within the humble church of St. Mary of Zion). That, of course, has never been confirmed and remains the subject of fairly heated controversy.

Today, Ethiopian Orthodoxy, the religion introduced by King Ezana, remains strong in the country. It is nowhere more evident than in the rock churches of Lalibela, constructed long after Ezana's reign, which we will discuss in the next blog post.

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