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Brief History of Christianity in Africa

Christianity first arrived in North Africa, in the 1st or early 2nd century AD. The Christian communities in North Africa were among the earliest in the world. Legend has it that Christianity was brought from Jerusalem to Alexandria on the Egyptian coast by Mark, one of the four evangelists, in 60 AD. This was around the same time or possibly before Christianity spread to Northern Europe.

Once in North Africa, Christianity spread slowly West from Alexandria and East to Ethiopia. Through North Africa, Christianity was embraced as the religion of dissent against the expanding Roman Empire. In the 4th century AD the Ethiopian King Ezana made Christianity the kingdom’s official religion. In 312 Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

In the 7th century Christianity retreated under the advance of Islam. But it remained the chosen religion of the Ethiopian Empire and persisted in pockets in North Africa.

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In the 15th century Christianity came to Sub-Saharan Africa with the arrival of the Portuguese. In the South of the continent the Dutch founded the beginnings of the Dutch Reform Church in 1652.

In the interior of the continent most people continued to practice their own religions undisturbed until the 19th century. At that time, Christian missions to Africa increased, driven by an antislavery crusade and the interest of Europeans in colonising Africa. However, where people had already converted to Islam, Christianity had little success.

Christianity was an agent of great change in Africa. It destabilised the status quo, bringing new opportunities to some, and undermining the power of others. With the Christian missions came education, literacy and hope for the disadvantaged. However, the spread of Christianity paved the way for commercial speculators, and, in its original rigid European form, denied people pride in their culture and ceremonies.

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Written by PH

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