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The Jesuit Presence in 17th Century Ethiopia

In the rural plateaux of northern Ethiopia, one can still find scattered ruins of monumental buildings alien to the country's ancient architectural tradition. This little-known and rarely studied architectural heritage bears silent witness to a fascinating if equivocal cultural encounter that took place in the 16th-17th centuries between Orthodox Ethiopians and Catholic Europeans. The Indigenous and the Foreign explores the enduring impact of the encounter on the religious, political and artistic life of Christian Ethiopia, one not readily acknowledged, not least because the public conversion of the early 17th-century King Susenyos to Catholicism resulted in a bloody civil war enveloped in religious intolerance.
Included in this presentation are photographs showing the surviving architecture of a number of religious and stately buildings of early 17th-century Ethiopia, a period when a mission of Jesuits from Goa, in Western India, was most active at the Ethiopian Christian king's Court. This important heritage, known as pre-Gondarine, is scarcely known outside of Ethiopia.

The photographic exhibition is complemented by a show of Jesuit books belonging to the Biblioteca Pública de Braga,and manuscripts from the Archive of the Conde da Barca, which are now in possession of the Arquivo Distrital de Braga.

The catalogue includes a number of images from illustrated Ethiopian manuscripts and texts from the period, kindly lent by The British Library and the SOAS Archives, with further examples of Ethiopian art from Private Collections, which were in display when the present exhibition was shown at the Brunei Gallery (SOAS - University of London), from July to September 2004, on the occasion of the launching of the book The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art (eds. I. Boavida e M. J. Ramos).

The Jesuits in 16/17th-Century Ethiopia

The Christian kingdom that controlled the Ethiopian high plateaux suffered a series of very deep political, economic, military and religious crises in the period between the late 15th century and the expulsion of the Jesuit missionaries in 1633. The Somali and Afari armies led by Ahmad ibn Ibrahim, called the Gragñ (or “left-handed”) seriously threatened the very existence of the Christian state from 1529 to 1543, when they were finally defeated by the Abyssinians with the help of a small Portuguese expeditionary force sent from Goa, India. Subsequently, parties of Borana and Barentuma Oromo pastoralists began raiding deeper and deeper into Abyssinian territory and, by the end of the 16th century, many had settled in Gojam and Shoa and had become the main adversaries of royal power in Abyssinia.

The Portuguese military collaboration with the Christian Ethiopians served their own strategic interests in their regional rivalry with the Ottoman Turks for control of the trade routes in the Red Sea and the north-western sector of the Indian Ocean. But the Portuguese rulers, together with the Pope in Rome and the head of the Company of Jesus, had the additional intention of establishing a mission in Ethiopia to encourage the population to switch from their Orthodox faith to Catholicism – an intention that made sense in the light of the Counter-Reformation concerns in Southern Europe.

A Jesuit mission led by Father Andrés de Oviedo first entered the country in 1557, only to find that the conversion project was too utopian. They began visiting the royal court, where they participated in a number of theological discussions with the Orthodox clergy. But they were eventually persecuted and expelled to Tigray where, in May Gwagwa, they preached and gave support to the Portuguese community that had stayed in Ethiopia in the wake of the Gragñ wars. As the years passed and the Portuguese either dwindled in numbers or converted to Orthodoxy, the mission became almost extinct.
By the end of the century, when Philip II, the Emperor of Spain, inherited the Portuguese royal crown, he decided to revive the Jesuit mission in Ethiopia. A new priest, Father Pedro Páez , was sent from Goa. Once in Ethiopia, he forced his way into the royal court. Other priests joined him and together they gradually gained the favour of the new Ethiopian King Susneyos and, very importantly, converted his brother the Ras Sela Krestos to Catholicism.

In 1621, Susneyos publicly announced his adherence to the Latin faith, a strategy to reinforce his political power and his independence from the influential Orthodox clergy. A consequence of the public conversion of the king was the arrival of a growing number of Jesuit priests intent on rapidly introducing Catholic reforms into Ethiopia. In 1626, the Catholic Patriarch Afonso Mendes imposed a number of changes on the ancestral religious practices of the Ethiopians. Social unrest and civil war followed and Susneyos was forced to resign. His son Fasiladas, who succeeded him, rejected Catholicism upon his accession to the throne and, in 1633, expelled or killed all Jesuit missionaries.

O rei etíope recebe o patriarca católico Afonso Mendes. Frontispício da tradução francesa do Itinerário de Jerónimo Lobo: Relation historique d'Abyssinie Traduite sur le manuscrit portugais… (ed. Joachin Legrand). Paris, Veuve Coustelier, 1727

Reading suggestions

On the history of 16th-17th Centuries Ethiopia

CRUMMEY, DONALD , Land and Society in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia from the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Century, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.

DERAT, MARIE-LAURE, Le domaine des rois éthiopiens (1270-1527). Espace, pouvoir et monachisme, Paris, éditions de la Sorbonne, 2003.

GUIDI, I., Bahrey, Historia Gentis Galla, Louvain, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, “ Scriptores Æthiopici ”, vol. 3, 1907, p. 195-208.

HASSEN, M., The Oromo of Ethiopia : a History, 1570-1860, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990, 253 p.

HUNTINGFORD, W. B., The Historical geography of Ethiopia, from the First Century AD to 1704, Oxford, Oxford University Press,1989.

MERID WOLDE AREGAY, “"Society and Technology in Ethiopia 1500-1800", Journal of Ethiopian Studies, 17, 1984, p. 127-147.

PANKHURST RICHARD, History of Ethiopian Towns from the Middle Ages to the early Nineteenth century, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 1982.

PEREIRA, FRANCISCO M. ESTEVES, Chronica de Susenyos, Rei de Ethiopia, 2 vols., Lisboa. Imprensa Nacional, 1892-1900.

TADDESSE TAMRAT, Church and State in Ethiopia 1270-1527, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1972.

On the history of Ethio-European relations

ABIR, M., Ethiopia and the Red Sea: the Rise and Decline of the Salomonic Dinasty and Muslin-European Rivalry in the Region, London, Frank Cass, 1980.

ÁLVARES, FRANCISCO, Verdadeira informação das terras do Preste João das Índias, modernized text, with introduction and notes by A. Reis Machado, Lisboa, Agência Geral das Colónias, 1943.

 - Ityopya Portugezoch Ëndiyyuat (Amharic translation of the Portuguese text by Girma Beshah), Lisboa, Centro de Estudos Ultramarinos, 1966.

BOAVIDA, ISABEL, Literatura e poder no período barroco: a Tragicomédia  El mártir de Etiopia (1646) de Miguel Botelho de Cavalho (unpublished MsC dissertation), Lisbon, Faculdade de Letras - Universidade de Lisboa, 2004.

BEJCZY, ISTVÁN, La lettre du prêtre Jean, une utopie médiévale. Paris, Imago, 2001.

CASTANHOSO, MIGUEL DE, Dos feitos de C. Christovam da Gama em Ethiopia (ed. F. M. E. Pereira). Lisboa, Sociedade de Geographia, 1898.

DAVIS, A. J., “"Background to the Zaaga Zab Embassy: an Ethiopian Diplomatic Mission to Portugal (1527-1539)", Studia, n║ 32, Jun. 1971, Lisboa, Centro de Estudos Históricos Ultramarinos), pp. 211-302.

GIRMA BESHAH, & MERID WOLDE AREGAY, The Question of the Union of the Churches in the Luso-Ethiopian Relations (1500-1632), Lisboa, Junta de Investigações do Ultramar & Centro de Estudos Históricos Ultramarinos, 1964.

GOIS, DAMIÃO DE, Fides, religio, mores que Aethiopum sub Imperio Preciosi Ioannis (quem vulgo Presbyterum Ioannem voccant) degentium, Lovani, ex officina Rutgeri Rescij, 1540.

HIRSCH, BERTRAND, Connaissances et figures de l'Éthiopie dans la cartographie occidentale du XIVe siècle au XVIe siècle, thèse de doctorat, dact., Paris 1 (CRA), 1986.

JAMES, WENDY, “"Kings, Commoners, and the Ethnographic Immagination in Sudan and Ethiopia", in: Richard Fardon (ed.), Localizing Strategies. The Regionalization of Ethnographical Accounts, Edimburgh, Scottish Academic Press, 1990, pp. 69-129.

PENNEC, HERVÉ, “"Ignace de Loyola et le royaume du prêtre Jean: projet et malentendus", Cahiers MEFRIM, 111-1 (1999), pp. 203-229.

RAMOS, MANUEL JOÃO, Ensaios de Mitologia Cristã: A Reversibilidade Simbólica do Preste João, Lisboa, Assírio & Alvim, 1997.

 - (ed.), The Ethiopian Destiny of Prester John / O Destino Etíope do Preste João. Catalogue of an exhibition at the National Museum of Ancient Art - Lisbon. Lisboa, Instituto Português de Museus, 1999.

THOMAZ, L. F., “L'idée impériale manuéline", Actes du colloque la découverte, le Portugal et l’Europe, (Paris, les 26, 27 et 28 mai 1988), Paris, Fundação Calouste. Gulbenkian, 1990, pp. 35-103.

On the History of Art and Architecture in 16th-18th Centuries Ethiopia

ANFRAY, FRANCIS, “" Les monuments gondariens des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, une vue d'ensemble", in Proceedings of the 8th International Conference of Ethiopian Stuides, vol. I, 1988, p. 9-45.

BOSC-TIESSE, C.,“" L'histoire et l'art des églises du lac Tana", Annales d'Éthiopie, 16, 2000, p. 207-270.

BOSC-TIESSE, C., Les Îles De La Mémoire - Fabrique Des Images Et Écriture De L'histoire Dans Les Églises Du Lac Tana, Ethiopie, Xviie-Xviiie Siècle, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2008.

CHOJNACKI, STANISLAW, Ethiopian Icons. Catalogue of the Collection of the institute of Ethiopian Studies Addis Ababa University, Skira, 2000.

HELDMAN M. e MUNRO-HAY, S. H., African Zion. The Sacred Art of Ethiopia, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1993.

MERCIER, JACQUES , Vierges d'Éthiopie, Paris, L'archange au Minotaure, 2004.

RAMOS, MANUEL JOÃO and BOAVIDA, ISABEL (orgs.), The Indigenous and the Foreign in Christian Ethiopian Art. on Portuguese-Ethiopian Contacts in the 16th- 17th Centuries. London, Ashgate, 2004.

STAUDE, W., "Étude sur la décoration picturale des églises Abba Antonios de Gondar et Dabra Sina de Gorgora", Annales d'Ethiopie, 3 (1959), pp. 185-235.

On the Jesuit Mission in Ethiopia, 16th-17th Centuries

ALMEIDA, MANUEL, Some Records of Ethiopia 1593-1646, being Extracts from The History of high Ethiopia or Abassia by Manoel de Almeida, together with Bahrey's History of the Galla, Beckingham, C. (trad.), Londres, Hakluyt Society, 1954.

BECCARI, C. (ed.), Rerum Æthiopicarum Scriptores Occidentales Inediti, Rome, Casa editrice italiana, 1903-1917, 15 vol. (Bruxelles, Imprimerie anastaltique Culture et Civilisation, reproduction en fac-similé de l'édition de Rome, 1969).

GUERREIRO, FERNÃO, Relação anual das coisas que fizeram os padres da companhia nas partes da India oriental, et em alguas outras da conquista deste Reyno nos annos de 607 et 608 et do processo de conversão et Christandade daquellas partes, com mais hua addiçam à relaçam de Ethiopia, Coimbra, Impressora da Universidade 1931 (1611).

LOBO, JERÓNIMO, Itinerário e outros escritos inéditos, translation, with introduction and notes by M. Gonçalves da Costa, Porto, Civilização, 1971.

MERID WOLDE AREGAY, “"The Legacy of Jesuit Missionary Activities in Ethiopia from 1555 to 1632”, in Getatchew Haile, Aasulv Lande and Samuel Rubenson (eds.) The Missionary Factor in Ethiopia: Papers from a Symposium on the Impact of European Missions on Ethiopian Society, Lund University, August 1996, Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang, 1998, pp.53-5.

PENNEC, HERVÉ, Des jésuites au royaume du Prêtre Jean (Éthiopie). Stratégies, rencontres et tentatives d’implantation 1495-1633, Paris, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2003.

 - and DERAT, MARIE-LAURE, “"Les églises et monastères royaux (XVe-XVIe, et XVIIe siècles) : permanences et ruptures d’'une stratégie royale", XIIIth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, 12-17 Dec. 1997, Kyoto, Japan, 1998, pp. 17-34.

RAMOS, MANUEL JOÃO, “"Machiavelian Empowerment and Disempowerment: the Violent Struggle for Power in 17th Century Ethiopia"”, in: Angela Cheater (ed.), The Anthropology of Power. Empowerment and Disempowerment in Changing Structures, London, Routledge - ASA Monographs, 1999, pp. 191-205.

Twelde Beiene, La Politica cattolica di Seltan Sägäd I (1607-1632) e la missione della Compagnia di Gesù in Etiopia. Procedenti, evoluzione e problematiche 1589-1632, Rome, Pontifica Universitas Gregoriana, 1983.

TELLEZ, BALTAZAR, Historia geral de Ethiopia a Alta ou Abassia do Preste Ioam, e do que nella obraram os Padres da Companhia de Iesus : composta na mesma Ethiopia, pelo Padre Manoel d'Almeyda, natural de Viseu, Provincial, e Visitador, que foy na India. Abreviada com nova releyçam, e methodo pelo Padre Balthazar Tellez, natural de Lisboa, Provincial da Provincia Lusitania, ambos da mesma Companhia, Coimbra, , Manuel Dias, Impressor de Universidade, 1660.

On Father Pedro Páez

BISHOP, GEORGE, A Lion to Judah: The Travels and Adventures of Pedro Paez, S.J., the River Finder, Anand, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1998.

KAMMERER, ALBERT, Le plus ancien voyage d'un occidental en Hadramaout (1590), le P. Pero [sic] Paez, de la Compagnie de JÚsus, extract du Bulletin de la Societé de géographie du Caire, t. XVIII, 2e. fasc, p. 143-167, Le Caire, E. et R. Schindler, 1933.

CARAMAN, PHILIP, The Lost Empire: the Story of the Jesuits in Ethiopia, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1965

PENNEC, HERVÉ and RAMOS, MANUEL JOÃO, "Páez, Pedro" (1564-1622)", in Literature of Travel and Exploration. An Encyclopedia, (Jennifer Speake, ed.), 3 vols, New York-London, Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003.

MERID WOLDE AREGAY, “"The Legacy of Jesuit Missionary Activities in Ethiopia from 1555 to 1632”, in Getatchew Haile, Aasulv Lande and Samuel Rubenson (eds.) The Missionary Factor in Ethiopia: Papers from a Symposium on the Impact of European Missions on Ethiopian Society, Lund University, August 1996, Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang, 1998, pp.53-5.

PÁEZ, PEDRO, P. Petri Paez s.i. Historia Æthiopiæ. in BECCARI, CAMILO (ed.), Rerum Aethiopiarum Scriptores Occidentales Inediti, vols. 2 and 3, Roma, Casa editrice italiana, 1905-1906.

PAIS, PERO (Pedro Páez) - História-Geral da Etiópia. Reprodução do Códice coevo inédito da Biblioteca Pública de Braga, 3 vols., leitura paleográfica de Lopes Teixeira, nota bio-bibliográfica de A. Feio, introdução de E. Sanceau, Porto, Civilização (Biblioteca Histórica - série ultramarina), 1945-1946.

PÁEZ, PEDRO - História da Etiópia de Pedro Páez, Modernized and compared edition, introduced and annotated by Isabel Boavida, Hervé Pennec and Manuel João Ramos, Lisboa, Direcção-Geral do Livro e das Bibliotecas - Assírio & Alvim, 2008.

PÁEZ, PEDRO - Historia de Etiopía de Pedro Páez, Spanish translation of the modernized and compared edition, introduced and annotated by Isabel Boavida, Hervé Pennec and Manuel João Ramos,Granada, El Legado Andalusí, 2009.

TACCHI VENTURI, P. (sj), “"Pietro Paez apostolo dell'Abissinia al principio del sec. XVII", CC, 1905, pp. 560-581.

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