Info

subverted by rich land grants and monastic energy was increasingly channelled into theological disputation rather than into political activity. Theological dispute reached a climax in the reign of King Zar'a Ya'qob (Seed of Jacob) (r.1434-68), perhaps the most creative and authoritative voice in the history of the Ethiopian Church. A council, presided over by the king himself, established the Sabbath as a holy day equal in status to Sunday, made normative the veneration of the Virgin Mary, through an elaborate array of feast days supported by religious tracts and painting,7 and suppressed sectarian dissent and magical practice. Zar'a Ya'qob led a movement of'religious nationalism', that created a model of church-state relations; this survived the turbulent century which began during the reign of his great grandson, Lebna Dengel (Incense of the Virgin) (r.1508-40).8

Between 1527 and 1632 the Ethiopian church and state were battered by invasion and civil war, which brought both to their extremity: 1527 saw the launching of a great jihad led by Ahmad ibn Ibrahim, popularly known as 'Gran' (the left handed). The development of a Christian state in the central highlands of Ethiopia had been paralleled by that of a chain of Muslim sultanates reaching from the coast via the eastern highlands and the Great Rift Valley into the highlands adjoining the Christian state. Relations were uneasy, balancing mutual profit from trade with the quest for dominance. From the earlier fourteenth through to the earlier sixteenth century, the Christians held the upper hand, thanks to their strategic position and greater cohesion. However, all this was overthrown by Ah. mad's forces, which overran the Christian highlands, destroyed and pillaged churches and monasteries, and made the Ethiopian rulers refugees within their own kingdom. Ah. mad proclaimed a sultanate of Habasha, and both Muslim and Christian sources agree that large-scale defections from the Christian faith occurred.9 In the short run the conflict came to an end with Ahmad's death in battle in 1543. However, the jihad proved to have a more lasting impact on both Christian and Muslim polities. Through weakening the frontier defences of the Christian state and distracting the attention

7 For an excellent introduction to the religious art ofEthiopia, seeM.Heldman, AfricanZion: the sacred art ofEthiopia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993). See also S. Chojnacki, Major themes in Ethiopian painting: indigenous developments, the influence of foreign models, and their adaptation from the thirteenth to thenineteenth century [Athiopistische Forschungen 10] (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1983).

8 The phrase is Taddesse's: Church and state, ch. 6: 'Zar'a Ya'iqob and the growth of religious nationalism (1380-1477)'.

9 The jihadist viewpoint is forwarded by Chihab ed-Din Ahmed Ben 'Abd el-Qader, Histoire delaconquete del'Abyssinie(XVIesiecle) (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1897); for a Christian account, see W Conzelman (ed. and trans.), Chronique de Galawdewos (Claudius) roi d'Ethiopie (Paris: E. Bouillon, 1895).

0 0

Post a comment