A response to Jacopo Genisci

Prof Teferedegn Haile (Shoa /Yifat)

I’ve read your article entitled “The emperor who rooted out magic in the Medieval Ethiopia” (https://www.ethiopianregistrar.com/the-emperor-who-rooted-out-magic-in-medieval-ethiopia/ ).

I the right desendant of his daughter Atsenaf Semera of Shoa gonna refute your narratives in detail. It seems that you are indeed trying to comply with that very old formalities of Eurocentric fabrication and distortion of African people’s history and civilization. Your very wrong assumption that Medieval Ethiopia has fragmentary written historical source is absolutely wrong. Quite to the contrary, ever since 13th century Ethiopia has immense annals, Chronicles, hagiologies, treatises etc. even much better than many European and Asian countries. This fact has been corroborated by one of the well known German linguist Augustus Dillman (Über die Regierung, insbesondere die Kirchenordnung König Zar’a Jakob, Berlin 1884).

Yes! you are very right, we have so many invaluable manuscripts in our ancient monasteries all over Ethiopia despite some have been stolen and looted by Westerners. Little wonder, you have mentioned in your narratives that “the courts of the emperors were marked by violence, betrayal and power struggles”. What have done their contemporaries in Europe? Other than power struggle among themselves, they were also battling to subjugate their nearest neighbouring independent nations. Moreover, in the name of Catholic Christianity there was a very powerful Inquisition office beginning in the 12th century in France and continuing for so many years until 1834 in Spain. Heresy was severely punished by burning. The largest witch-hunt trials and mass-execution took place in Germany, in the city of Würzburg, in 1626-1631. There men, women and children have been burned after first being beheaded. Not only in Europe but also in North America witch trial took place in May 1878 in Salem, Massachusetts.

All along savage Italian, French, German, Spaniard, English, Habsburg Monarchy and so many other ruling classes used to butcher the peasantry, persecute Jews and Muslims all over Europe. Subsequent to this event West European colonial expansion and trans-Atlantic slave trade began to develop.

Regarding your description of Emperor Zera‘ Yakob based upon a late 15th- or early 16th-century Ethiopic manuscript from the Giovardiana Library in Veroli, Italy, is absolutely wrong. Since the frontispiece of the book, Tamire Mariam (Miracles of Maria) does not at all look like an Ethiopian. For sure it seems to be a very recent Italian fabrication. In this regard, one of the original MS which

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was donated to the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem by Emperor Zera’ Yakob is now in Vatican, Rome. Moreover, another MS of Tamira Mariam which was also donated to Mekane Mary monastery which it was later on taken to Maqdella library and then was looted by the British army led by General Napier in 1868 is now in the British library catalogue No. 76 as Maqedella collection.

Great Zera’ Yakob had three brothers. His father was Emperor Dawit I

(1382-1411) and his mother was Egize Kibra. Atse Dawit same as emperor Kaleb of 6th century who conquered South Arabia and later abdicated his throne to his son Gebre Meskel so also Atse Dawit the very piteus gave his thron to his first born Tewodros I (1411-1414) mainly due to the conspiracy of the monks from Debre Haiq Estifanos monastery in Bete Amhara. After his Abdication Atse Dawit left for lake Tana Island monastery of Daga. There he had an accident and died consequently. His successor Tewodros died all of a sudden after only three years in power and was first buried in Merabete. Thereafter, the second son of Atse Dawit, Yishak (1414-1429) was crowned. He was too a great warrior same as Amade Tseyon (1314-1344). Atse Yishak marched as far as Zeila and Barbara at the coast of the Indian Ocean in order to subjugate the Muslim Sultanates of Adal. He was killed in the battle field against the Adal vassals. Thus his brother Endryas / Eskinder (1429-1430) followed him. Eskinder died of Typhus infection and his son Tekle Mariam (1430-1433) ascended to the Ethiopian throne. The cause of his death is not at all known. Due to the wide spread epidemic the war with the Muslim Adal in the East and south east and in northwest against the Felasha came to stand still for a while. The younger brother of the deceased Emperor, Serawee Ieeyesus, was crowned only for months and his junior brother Amade Iyesus (1433-1414) succeeded him. Thereafter, one of the greatest Ethiopian Medieval Emperor Zer’a Yakob as the fourth son of Atse Dawit ascended the throne.

Indeed the scribes of the time between the reign of Atse Eskindir and the ascendancy of Emperor Zer’a Yakob (1434-1468) have not detailed records. Great Zera Yakob was born in 1399 in the province of Fategar in the district of Te’leq. i.e. west of Addis Ababa in the area around mount Menagesha named Yelebasho where he had established a botanical garden. The trees he planted there are to be seen at present.

Zera Yakob and his brothers were tutored by the famous Aba Giyorgis of Gashta (Segela), the greatest Ethiopian theologian for many centuries, author of the book of mystery (Metsehafe Miste’re). Later on Zera Yakob was sent to Amba Gishen and stayed there for 20 years.

Amba Gishen in Amhara was a very unique Ethiopian Institution. It has been a common practice in many countries to keep all male members of the reigning dynasty in the imprisonment with the possible exception of the heir apparent. In India for example the Mogul rulers had their confinement at their palace in Delhi and Ottoman Sultans were strangling brothers at first and in later times they imprisoned in the Kafes. In Ethiopia, this established custom was revived when the ancient Aksumite dynasty was restored in 13th century. During the Axumite period Mount Damo in Tigre was used. The objective of the custom was the prevention of civil war. It is very well known that Amba Gishen as the school of the princes was equipped with immense reference library. It was the place of higher learning of theology, philosophy, Ethiopic poetry, liturgical compositions, etc. Zera’ Yakob was an outstanding student of Aba Giorgis and other ecclesiastically famous personalities.

At the age of 35 Zera’ Yakob (Qostentinos) was crowned in Berera at his father’s residence in Wereb. In 1436 he went to the Axum Tseyon Cathedral to revive the ancient ceremony of coronation. After that on his way back to Shoa, he established two monasteries in Amhara province at the place called Tsehaya which were called Mekane Gol and Debre Negodguwad. Moreover, he changed the name of Debre Asebo in Graria, Shoa, to Debre Libanos, enriched it with possessions, and entrusted its abbot, the eccage, with wide responsibilities for the control of all other monasteries. He settled so many new chewaas (special troops) in Dewaro (Harerghe), Ba’lee, Hadya, Fategar, Cambata, Gurage, Kafa, Gamo, Wedje, Genz, Enarea, Damot (Welega), Gambela, Bezamo, Gojam, Semen, Tselmet, Tseged, Wolqayit, Begemidir, Tigre, Sanar, Bahir Mider (Hamasen, Akale Guzayi, Bilen, Kunama, etc.), Harla, Adal, Zeyila, Berbera, etc. Bahire Negash was nominated by the Zera’ Yakob to administer Bahirmidier (Eritrea). Even though Zera Yakob was married to the sister of Gerad Mahiko of Hadya, a Muslim vassal who allied himself with his likes in Adal. In the year 1445 Sultan Ahmed Bedelaye of Adal was killed at the battle of Eguba in Yifat. Thereafter, Yifat Sultant of Welasma was expelled from upper Shoa (Yifat) beyond Awash River and Chercher Mountain to Harerghe, Zeila and Berbera Regions. Gradually Harer had become their main Centre of settlement for Adal Welasma dynasty. Zera’Yakob was not only a great warrior but also a famous theologian. He himself has written many books such as the book of light (Metsehafe Birhan), which consists of readings for Saturdays and Sundays of the month, Metsihafe Milad, Egiziabheer Negse, etc. etc. Zera’ Yakob was the one who also ordered that every church’s altar on its right side Virgin Mary icon and on the left side a cross have to be fixed. The devotions of his father and himself to the cult of the cross and of Mary the Mother of Jesus were of enormous importance. On the other hand the heretical monks of Stephanite and Michaelites rejected devotions to the Virgin Mary and the cross. Hence they have been severely punished. Religious dispute over iconoclasm in Europe was deep rooted for many centuries. The Virgin Mary has so many different names such as Blessed Virgin, Mother Mary, Our Lady, Mother of God, Queen of angels, Mary of sorrows and queen of the Universe. Virgin Mary is the patron saint of all human beings. Reverence for the Mother of God and pray to her so that she might present our prayers to God and obtain forgiveness from him for our sins started by Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD). Ethiopian Christians ever since the fourth century AD wrote also very beautiful prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary before St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787).

The first Christian monastery in the world is the monastery of St. Anthony in Egypt in the fourth century and spread to the Ethiopian Axumite Empire. Monastic tradition developed and Christianity flourished in Ethiopia.

Miracles of Virgin Mary

In Egypt during the reign of emperor Justinian I (527-565 A.D) of Byzantine Empire the monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai was established. The legend about this monastery states that the monks were forced to abandon it due to hunger, snakes, lack of oil, pestes, flies attack, scarcity of food and water. Then they climb Mount Moses to leave the keys of their monastery. However, before they gave up they met the Blessed Virgin Mary. They were then convinced of her advice just to remain in the monastery. All over a sudden at the gate of the monastery, they have seen a caravan of traders having plenty of loads destined for them. They began asking who has ordered that for us. The merchants replied that the Virgin Mary you’ve encountered with on Mount Sinai has guided us to deliver. This act has been recorded as the Miracle of Virgin Mary. Another legend about Mother of God is from Mount Athos (Agion Oros- which means holy mountain), a mountain and a peninsula in northwestern Greece, is the most important monastery of Orthodox Christians. The first monks arrived in the 9th century and women are not allowed within 500 meters of the shore and even female animals are prohibited from walking on Mount Athos. This is because the Virgin Mary is said to have visited the peninsula and prayed to have it as her own. That is why it is called the “Garden of Virgin Mary”. She was sailing accompanied by St. John the Apostle. After the Islamic conquest of Egypt in 8th century, many monks from the Egyptian desert fled to Athos for their safety.

In Tegulet Zera’ Yakob established the monastery of Debre Mitmaqi upon hearing of the demolition of an Egyptian monastery of the same name by the Muslim Arabs. In August 1449 Zera Yakob had great council at Debre Mitmaqi where hundreds of senior abbots and clerics were assembled. The long theological division regarding Sabbaths and Sundays was once for all resolved.

Subsequently Zera’ Yakob built a palace with a golden cupola and the three churches: Trinity Church, Qirqos Church and Ansasa Mariam church of Debre Birhan in 1454. He stayed here for 14 years and died on 26th August 1468. He ruled Ethiopia for 34 years and his son Bede Mariam ascended to the throne.

From one of the Rock-hewn churches in Ethiopia the priest showing a book

Miracle of Maria, Tamire Mariam This is the typical Orthodox traditional icon.

This too is an icon of orthodox tradition.

From Lake Tana Monastery in Ethiopia.

This magnificently illuminated manuscripts from the 6th century Debre Damo

, one of the oldest monasteries of Ethiopia was which was founded by Aba Aregawi, one of the ‘Nine Saints’. His fellow 8 monks also founded monasteries in Axum, Yeha, Geralta, Medera, Amhara, Simen, Begemider, Gojam, Shoa etc. In the Medieval times the monastery Debre Damo used to have more than 6000 monks. At present it has more than 150 monks and more than 200 students.

The second part will continue with detailed information.

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