St Stephen of the Abyssinians
Santo Stefano degli Abissini
AffiliationCoptic Catholic
RiteAlexandrian Rite (Coptic)
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusNational Church in Rome of Ethiopia
LocationVatican City
Santo Stefano degli Abissini
Location on a map of Vatican City
Geographic coordinates41°54′06.47″N 012°27′06.74″E / 41.9017972°N 12.4518722°E / 41.9017972; 12.4518722Coordinates: 41°54′06.47″N 012°27′06.74″E / 41.9017972°N 12.4518722°E / 41.9017972; 12.4518722
Groundbreaking5th century[1] or 8th century
Completed9th century
Length35 metres (115 ft)
Width20 metres (66 ft)
Width (nave)10 metres (33 ft)

St Stephen of the Abyssinians (Italian: Santo Stefano degli Abissini) is an Ethiopian Catholic church located in Vatican City. The church dedicated to Stephen the Protomartyr is the national church of Ethiopia. The liturgy is celebrated according to the Alexandrian rite of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. It is one of the only standing structures in the Vatican to survive the destruction of Old St. Peter's Basilica, and thus it is the oldest surviving church (in terms of architectural history) in Vatican City.[1]


The church was, by tradition, built by Pope Leo I (ca. 400–461), and named Santo Stefano Maggiore.[2]

In 1479, Pope Sixtus IV restored the church and assigned it to the Coptic monks in the city. It was at this time that the name was changed to reflect that it was served by Ethiopians (Abyssinian). It was altered under Pope Gregory XI (1700–1721), and again in 1928.


The façade is in the style of the early 18th century. The 12th century doorway, decorated with the Lamb and the Cross, has been preserved.


The church has a single nave with ancient columns along the sides. The most important work of art is a fresco of the Madonna with Child in the Roman style from the 15th century.


The Feast of St. Stephen is celebrated on 26 December.

See also


  1. ^ a b Metropolitan Museum of Art 1983, p. 151
  2. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Rome" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.