The existing church was built by Pope Leo III (795–816), and named Santo Stefano Maggiore. It stands above the ruins of a pagan
temple dedicated to Vesta, and was originally built as a circular building with twenty Corinthian columns, which is a common
plan for a temple of Vesta. The temple was converted to a church by Leo the Great (440-461).
It was rebuilt in 1159 under Pope Alexander III, who also built a monastery for Ethiopian monks next to it.
In 1479, Pope Sixtus IV restored the church. It was at this time that the name
was changed to reflect that it was served by Ethiopians (Abyssianians).
Due to its dilapidated condition it was restored and altered under Pope Gregory XI in 1706, and again in 1928.
In 2008 the Fabbrica di San Pietro, (Dir. Dott. Pietro Zonder) restored the church interior and exterior.