Saint Frumentius

Saint Frumentius of the Axumite Kingdom
Bishop, Confessor and Apostle to Ethiopia
Born 4th century AD
Tyre, Lebanon
Died c. 383
Venerated in Western and Eastern Christianity
Feast August 1 (Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church)
October 27 (Roman Catholic Church)
November 30 (Eastern Orthodox Church)
December 18 (Coptic Orthodox Church)
Patronage Aksumite Empire

Saint Frumentius (Ge'ez ፍሬምናጦስ frēmnāṭōs; born at Tyre in the early fourth century, died ca. 383, Ethiopia) was the first Bishop of Aksum (or Axum), and he is credited with bringing Christianity to the Aksumite Kingdom.[1]

He was a Syro-Phoenician Greek born in Tyre. Captured with his brother as a boy, they became slaves to the King of Axum. He freed them before his death, and they were invited to educate his young heir. They also began to teach Christianity. Later Frumentius traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, where he appealed to have a bishop appointed and missionary priests sent to Axum. He was appointed bishop and established the Church in Ethiopia, converting many.


According to the 4th-century historian Rufinus (x.9), who cites Frumentius' brother Edesius as his authority, as children (ca. 316) Frumentius and Edesius accompanied their uncle Meropius from their birthplace of Tyre (in present-day Lebanon) on a voyage to Ethiopia. When their ship stopped at one of the harbors of the Red Sea, local people massacred the whole crew, sparing the two boys, who were taken as slaves to the King of Axum. The two boys soon gained the favour of the king, who raised them to positions of trust. Shortly before his death, the king freed them. The widowed queen, however, prevailed upon them to remain at the court and assist her in the education of the young heir, Ezana, and in the administration of the kingdom during the prince's minority. They remained and (especially Frumentius) used their influence to spread Christianity. First they encouraged the Christian merchants present in the country to practise their faith openly; later they converted some of the natives.[1]

When the prince came of age, Edesius returned to Tyre, where he stayed and was ordained a priest. Frumentius, eager for the conversion of Ethiopia, accompanied his brother as far as Alexandria, where he requested Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, to send a bishop and some priests as missionaries to Ethiopia. By Athanasius' own account, he believed Frumentius to be the most suitable person for the job and consecrated him as bishop,[2] traditionally in the year 328, or according to others, between 340-346.

Frumentius returned to Ethiopia, where he erected his episcopal see at Axum, then converted and baptized King Ezana, who built many churches and spread Christianity throughout Ethiopia. The people called Frumentius Kesate Birhan (Revealer of Light) and Abba Salama (Father of Peace). He became the first Abune—a title given to the head of the Ethiopian Church.

In about 356, the Emperor Constantius II wrote to King Ezana and his brother Saizanas, requesting them to replace Frumentius as bishop with Theophilus, who supported the Arian position, as did the emperor. Frumentius had been appointed by Athanasius, a leading opponent of Arianism. The king refused their request.[3][4]

The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of Frumentius on December 18,[5] the Eastern Orthodox on November 30, and the Roman Catholic on October 27. Saint Frumentius is venerated on August 1 in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.[6] Ethiopian traditions credit him with the first Ge'ez translation of the New Testament, and the development of Ge'ez script from an abjad (consonantal-only) into an abugida (syllabic).


  1. 1 2 Saheed A. Adejumobi (2007). The History of Ethiopia. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. p. 171. ISBN 0-313-32273-2.
  2. Athanasius, Epistola ad Constantinum
  3. "Letter of Constantius to the Ethiopians against Frumentius", Bible Suite, Christian Booksheld
  4. "Frumentius of Axum", Blackwell Reference Online
  5. Date of Feast/Consecration as Bishop of Ethiopia
  6. Festivals and Commemorations: Handbook to the Calendar in Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Press, 1980

External links

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