How Did Christianity Come To Eritrea

Historical Roots of Christianity in Eritrea

Christianity in Eritrea has its roots in the early centuries of the Common Era. A 4th-century account by a Coptic chronicler mentions Libertarians among Eritrean traders and a 5th-century synod in Alexandria declared the region Christian. During the late 4th and early 5th centuries A.D., the Aksumite Empire, with its capital at Aksum in present-day northern Ethiopia, became of paramount influence in the area now called Eritrea, and was the first to codify Christianity as the official religion.

The ancient Christian traditions of Eritrea were largely maintained until the 10th century, when the then kingdom of Aksum was invaded by Muslim forces and most of its inhabitants converted to Islam. By the 16th century, the entire region became predominantly Muslim, and Christianity began to decline.

Despite the Islamic presence, Christianity was kept alive by a small but determined group of believers. During the colonial period, starting in the late 19th century, foreign missionaries—mainly Italian and British—set up Christian churches in major cities, and made efforts to spread their faith to the rural areas. The Roman Catholic Church was the first to gain a foothold in Eritrea, setting up a number of urban parishes.

Italian colonization and the Development of Christianity

Though Eritrea officially came under Italian colonial rule in 1890, the Catholic church had been present in Eritrea for some years before, with the first priests arriving in 1880. Within a decade the colonial government legalized the Catholic Church, freeing it from potential harassment from Islamic authorities. Subsequently, the Church enjoyed a privileged position, with the colonial authorities providing financial and organizational support for its activities.

The Colonial Government were keen to have a significant impact across all areas of the colony, including in its religious institutions. As such, they granted, amongst other things, legal recognition to the school syllabus, a patron saint day, a weekly homily and a pay-scale to support the efforts of the priests. This enabled the Church to become a more integral part of the local community and culture, while at the same time aiding in the Italianisation of Eritrea.

By the early 1920s, a period of intense evangelization began in Eritrea. Italian priests established new churches, schools, and hospitals on city outskirts. The Catholic Church quickly grew in influence, and at its height, around 90-95 percent of Eritreans were nominally Catholic. Italy also continued to play a significant role in the introduction of new religious orders and orders of nuns, including the Franciscans, Jesuit and Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

Post-Colonial Period of Christianity

The end of colonial rule in 1952 was met with an immediate decline in the influence of organized religion in Eritrea, largely attributed to the oppressive policies of the new government. Christian activities both public and private were outlawed, and missionaries were expelled from the country. Despite this, many Christians managed to remain in the country, attending underground churches and secret gatherings in order to practice their faith.

In the decades since independence, the population of Ethiopia and Eritrea have witnessed a steady increase in Christian observance. There are now a wide range of denominations active in both countries, including Catholic, Protestant, and independent Evangelical churches. The Catholic Church remains a dominant force in the region, and since its resurrection after the fall of the Italian regime, a number of new seminaries, schools and initiatives have been established.

Additionally, Christian NGOs play an important role in Eritrea, with a large number of organizations providing humanitarian relief both in Eritrea and neighbouring countries. These organizations focus on improving education, promoting health and providing aid to refugee and internally displaced people as well as to local citizens in need.

Evangelism and Free Practice of Faith

In recent years, Evangelism, the sharing of the Gospel with those who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, has become an increasingly important part of Christianity in Eritrea. In particular, the focus has been on spreading the Gospel to areas where traditional Christian activity has decreased over time. Evangelism efforts have particularly targeted rural areas as well as impoverished city slums.

The spread of the Christian faith in Eritrea has been aided by the Government having made a commitment to promote the free practice of religion, as laid out in the nation’s Constitution. This commitment has allowed a more open discussion of the faith, along with a greater freedom to demonstrate and share their beliefs in public. As such, it has been an important factor in the growth of Christianity in the country.

Conclusion of Faith and State

Though Islam remains the majority faith across the region, Eritrea today is comprised of a diverse population of Christians from a range of denominations, including both indigenous African believers as well as foreign missionaries. The commitment of the Eritrean Government to allow freedom of religion has been essential in allowing this vibrant diversity to exist and thrive, and will likely continue to play an important role in the country’s religious landscape in future.

Access and Education in Christian Schools

Access to Christian education has increased significantly in recent times, with a number of schools and universities run by the church and its affiliates. These schools are highly sought after, due to their unique religious curriculum, often with a focus on traditional and spiritual values. Along with providing religious instruction, these schools also provide education and training in a variety of subjects, from technical subjects to the arts, sciences, and humanities.

E ritual schooling is also becoming increasingly popular, with a number of churches offering online courses and lectures which can be taken from the safety of home. This trend is expected to continue to grow in the future, allowing access to religious education to those who may not be able to attend a traditional school.

Charitable Outreach

A key part of the growth of Christianity in Eritrea has been the large number of charitable organizations set up by faith-based organizations. These organizations are run largely by volunteers, and are dedicated to providing aid and support to those in need, regardless of their faith. Charitable activities have included providing food aid and medical care, as well as running educational and employment programs.

The charitable outreach of Christian organizations has been a major source of help and support to those in need in Eritrea, providing real and tangible aid to those in poverty or suffering from disabilities and illness. It has helped to build bridges between the different faiths in the country, offering a platform for dialogue and mutual understanding between all people, regardless of creed or social standing.

Relationship between Eritrea and the Vatican

The Catholic Church has played a major role in the recent reconciliation process in Eritrea and Ethiopia, with Pope Francis leading the way in negotiations. The Pope had long held a dream of creating peace and unity between the two nations, and in 2018, he achieved this goal. The ill-feeling and hostility between Eritrea and Ethiopia had been going on for decades, and the Pope’s intervention on the issue helped to bring an end to the conflict.

Following the historic peace deal between the two nations, the Pope was invited by both sides to visit the region. This was followed by Pope Francis’s visit to both Eritrea and Ethiopia in April 2019. During the trip, he held meetings with both the Eritrean and Ethiopian leaders and attended a number of ecumenical services.

The relationship between the Vatican and the two nations has been warm and mutually beneficial, with the Catholic Church providing both spiritual and material aid throughout the periods of peace and conflict. This has proved to be an important factor in the reconciliation process between the two countries.


Christianity has been present in Eritrea for centuries, with its historical roots stretching back to the 4th century A.D. Its presence has been magnified in recent times, with the resurgence of the Church after the fall of colonial rule, and the commitment of the Eritrean government to allow freedom of religion. The impact of the Church has since been felt across various aspects of life in the country, from providing Christian education to charitable outreach and providing spiritual guidance to citizens. Through the continued support of the Catholic Church, other denominations, and the commitment of the people of the region, Christianity is set to remain an integral part of the religious landscape of Eritrea in the years to come.

Jennifer Johnson is an experienced author with a deep passion for exploring the spiritual traditions of different cultures and religions. She has been writing about religion and spirituality for the past ten years in both print and digital platforms, engaging readers in meaningful dialogue about the soul's journey through this life. With degrees in Comparative Religion and English Literature, she brings an insightful perspective to her work that bridges the gap between traditional knowledge and modern theories. A lifelong traveler, Jenn has lived in multiple countries exploring various paths to understanding faith, and her dedication to learning new things is palpable in every piece she creates.

Leave a Comment