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AXUM


163


AXUM


Axum (Auxume), a titular metropolitan see of incicnt Christian Ethiopia. Its episcopal list, from ibout the middle of the fourth century to 650, is ound in Gams (p. 462). Modern Axum is the capital )f the Abyssinian province of Tigre, and nestles in a doof, or valley, beneath a lofty peak of the Adoua nountains, at 7,545 feet above the level of the sea. Beneath it is a vast ]>lain in which arise several itreams tributary to the Nile. "The features of the ilace", says a recent traveller, "are very marked; irstly one comes across the large sacred enclosure, learly a mile in circumference, thickly planted with jees and reeds, in the centre of which rises the cathedral, surrounded by the monastic buildings md the residence of the Etchigeh, or bishop. This enclosure occupies nearly the whole of the entrance ,o the valley; beyond it on the hill slopes are the louses of the inhabitants, whilst running up the valley is the long line of stupendous obelisks and jeyond is the ancient tank or reservoir from which he inhabitants still get their water supply" (Bent, ["he Sacred City of the Ethiopians).

The city is of great antiquity, and was, together vith Adule (Adoua on the coast) known to the Greeks md Romans as the chief centre of trade, with the nterior of Africa, or gold-dust, ivory, eather, hides, and iromatics. The pop- ilation is of mixed j^thiopic (negroid) md Arab origin, and s probably de- cended, in great neasure, from an ^rab colony settled m the coast at a 'ery remote period. rhe numerous Him- 'aritic (Arabic) in- criptions in the vi- linity exhibit the nfluence of .Arabia; imilarly the stone nonuments w i t h heir evidences of un and star wor- hip. Moreover, it s well known that n the sixtli century )f our era the Kings )f Abyssinia, then

md long after resident at Axum, extended their sway )ver the Saba-an and Himyarite (Homerite) tribes of jfemen on the opposite Arabian shore. Greek in- luences are also traceable in the architecture of Axum md from a very early date, probably from the days of ,he Ptolemies of Egypt. In other words, this " sacred

ity of the Ethiopians" has been from time imme-

norial an outpost of ancient civilization against the nass of African barbarism. Axum became a Chris-

ian city in the time of St. Athanasius of Alexandria,

vho consecrated its first bishop, St. Frumentius, itill honoured as the great patron of Abyssinia; since vhich time (c. 330) the .\byssinian Church has re- nained in close dependency on the Church of Alexan- Iria, and yet receives from Egypt its chief ecclesias- iical officer, the Abouna. There is still extant [P. G., XXV, 635) a famous letter of the Emperor Donstantius (337-361) to Aeizanes, the King of Vxum, ordering him to send Frumentius to Alexan- dria to receive the Arian doctrine from the heretical successor intruded in the place of Athanasius. The 3ther principal ecclesiastics resident at Axum are the above mentioned Etchigeh (Elchagui). or principal oishop, always a native; the h'ebrid, a kind of arcii- ieacon or head of the priesthood and rector of the


cathedral; the Lij Kaneat, or judge in ecclesiastical matters, together with monks and priests of various grades. There are also many persons luiown as defteras, described as " lay assistants in all the ser- vices, acting as singers and performers in all the church ceremonies; the scribes, advocates, and doc- tors of Abyssinia and the most instructed and intelli- gent people of the land" (Bent, op. cit., 161).

Axum claims to hold in the innermost recesses of its cathedral the original Tables of the Law and the tabout, or Ark of the Covenant that the Abyssinians say was brought from Jerusalem to their ancient fortress of Ava by Menelek, the son of Solomon, and the Queen of Sheba, and transferred later to Axum. The palace of that famous Queen is also shown at Axum. Until 1538 Axum was both the civil and religious centre of Abyssinia. In that year, it was captured by Mohammed, Prince of Leila, since which time the Negus resides at Gondar. Tlie cathedral is a fine edifice, and was built in the six- teenth century during the period of Portuguese influence in Abyssinia, but on the substructure of a very ancient Christian church. It has a flat roof and battlements, and there is a corridor outside where the priests dance and sing. Around the cathe- ilral are many large .sliadi'-trees beneath which are built smaller churches or treasuries, in which are stored valuables of all kinds. Its sacred enclosure is not only the centre of ecclesiastical life, but also one of the most honoured sanc- tuaries in Abyssinia, wliere any criminal can find shelter by ringing the bell in the porcli and de- claring three times in a loud voice his intention of claim- ing a refuge. Women are not allowed to enter it. Indeed, all Axum is practically a sacred, inviolable refuge, for which reason the people en- joy a condition of peace and tranquillity unknown elsewhere in Abyssinia (Bent, 163).

Very interesting are the numerous stone pedes- tals that once bore metal statues of the pre-Christian kings of Axum, memorials of victory, and the stone monoliths and obelisks, fallen or standing, estimated by Bent at about fifty. The latter form " a consecu- tive series from very rude unhewn stones up to the highly finished and decorated obelisks, and it is highly probable that we have here the origin and development of the obelisk side by side" (Bent, 132). The only standing obelisk of the decorated kind, highly carved with sham doors and beam ends, in imitation of a many-storied edifice, is nine stories high, and ends with a semi-circular finial, on which is still to be seen a representation of the solar disk. "In other words," says Mr. Bent (p. 185) "we have before us a perfect representation of the Beth-el or House of God terminating in the firmament, in which the Sabisean sun-god is supposed to reside." Altars for animal sacrifices were fitted to the bases of these obelisks; several of them are still visible. Mounds and rubbish heaps are scattered about the sacred enclosure at Axum that doubtless contain many objects of profane and ecclesiastical interest.