Though its clergy are among the most retiring of Jerusalem's Christians, rarely glimpsed striding confidently through the streets like the Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic priests, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has maintained an uninterrupted presence in the city since the conversion of Ethiopia to Christianity in the 4th century CE.
The church acquired its unique identity early on in its history, when it, coupled with the Coptic Christians, split off from the main body of Christendom in the wake of the Byzantine Council of Chalcedon in 451, part of a regular series of conferences between Christian leaders to determine a uniform dogma in the heterodox early Christian era. The split was over a theological dispute regarding how Christ's divine and human natures coexisted, and it established the Coptic Church and the semi-autonomous (and eventually, as of 1948, autocephalous) Ethiopian Orthodox Church as among the earliest still-extant schismatic Christian sects. Until 1888, the Ethiopian Church contented itself with a monastery and church built on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, but in that year a generous grant from the Ethiopian emperor Yohannes allowed the Ethiopians to purchase land well outside the city walls, on what is today Hanevi'im Street, and build a new monastery, which they called Debra Gannet.
Visitors from the West can appreciate its style of construction, different from the standard layout of churches in the West; instead of the usual corridor leading up to the altar, Debra Gannet is a circular structure, radiating outward from the altar in the church's very center. The monastery is home to several dozen monks and nuns, and the entire complex is erratically open to visitors, free of charge (although donations are encouraged). Remove your shoes before entering in accordance with Ethiopian custom.
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