#1 of 7 Imperial Churches: The Debre Tsion Kidist Mariam Church at Addis Alem
Emperor Menelik II at the turn of the 20th century decided that because of the rapidly deminishing wood supply around the capital, he would move his seat of power from Addis Ababa to Addis Alem, a new city he would build one hundred kilometers to the west. Work was started on a palace there, and the Italian embassy went so far as to build a new embassy at Addis Alem as well. However, Emperor Menelik changed his mind,(some say he had a dream that the place would bring bad fortune), and the capital remained at Addis Ababa. However, the Throne Hall that had had built to be part of the new Palace complex was turned into a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and can be seen in the picture above. As it was named for St. Mary of Zion in Axum, the church’s administrator was granted the title of Nebure Id, but he did not enjoy the same precidence as the Nebure Id at Axum at court.
The Monastery of Our Lady Covenant of Mercy (Kidane Meheret) is located not in Ethiopia, but in Jerusalem. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church has a long presence in in the Holy Land going back centuries. Indeed, the church once controled a sizable portion of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. However, in the 19th Century, an epidemic wiped out the monks and nuns of the Ethiopian Monastery and Convent there, and as a result, much of the property was handed over to the care of the Coptic and Armenian Churches who as co-religionists of the Ethiopians were thought to be the most trustworthy. However, when replacement monks arrived, the Copts and Armenians refused to return the keys to the rooms, and the Ethiopians were relegated to a few huts on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, known as the monastery of Der Sultan. The Coptic church has infact claimed this monastery as well, and the dispute is ongoing. To ease the hardships of the monks and nuns in Jerusalem, Emperor Yohannis IV purchased land and began work on a new church and monastery shortyl after he became Emperor of Ethiopia.
Following his defeat of Egypt at the battles of Gundat and Guda-gude, the Emperor even sent the large amount of Turkish currency and gold that he had captured to help pay for the building of this monastery. After his death at the battle of Metemma, the building of the new Church and Monastery of Our Lady Covenant of Mercy (Kidane Meheret) became a favored project of both Emperor Menelik II and his wife Empress Taitu who spent considerable sums of their private money and crown funds on the completion of the church and the funding of the monastery.
The Church was completed in 1897 and given the title “Debre Guenet” or “Mountain of Paradise” and continues in service to this day. It is in the traditional circular plan of many Ethiopian churches and is richley decorated with many fine icons. It has recieved the patronage of not only the Imperial family, but many of Ethiopias noble families, as often elderly noblemen and noblewomen would take vows and enter the monastery as monks or nuns in old age.