courts featured prominently in the organisation of the royal camp. Finally, the king's rule was tyrannical and produced a strong reaction, especially in the years following his death, while the consensus on doctrine and the synthesis of episcopal authority and monasticism which he effected proved ephemeral, haunting future generations as an ideal too often beyond grasp. It was to be almost 400 years before Ethiopian rulers again achieved this integration.
One institution of church and state, possibly born and certainly developed under the medieval Solomonics, which survived the upheavals and destructive violence of the years from 1527 to 1632 was the royal church.35 To be sure, many of these churches were destroyed during the jihad of Ahmad Gran and others were lost to the Christian kingdom during the Oromo wars of the latter half of the sixteenth century. Nevertheless, the institution provides a bridge from the medieval to the Gondar period and beyond and played a role in the revival of the Solomonic monarchy in the later nineteenth century. It caught the attention of the Portuguese priest Francisco Alvares, who visited Ethiopia in the 1520s, and whose account has remained invaluable for its detailed insights into the Solomonic kingdom on the eve of the cataclysmic jihad.36 Alvares believed that this institution was peculiarly characteristic of the (then) districts of Amhara and Shawa, where the Solomonics were based. It emerges from the broader historical record in the course of the sixteenth century, during the reigns of Zar'a Ya'qob and his son Ba'eda Maryam (By the Hand of Mary) (1468-78). Ba'eda Maryam's foundation of Atronsa Maryam was famous for its wealth and for harbouring the remains of numerous earlier metropolitans and of three of the king's predecessors, most notably the dynasty's founder, Yekunno Amlak.37
35 See M.-L. Derat and H. Pennec, 'Les eglises et monasteres royaux d'Ethiopie (XVe-XVIe et XVIIe siècles): permanences et ruptures d'une stratégie royal', in Ethiopia in broader perspective: Papers of the XIIIth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, ed. Katsuyoshi Fukui, Eisei Kurimoto and Masayoshi Shigeta (Kyoto: Shokado Book Sellers, 1997), 1, 17-34; Derat, Le domaine des rois ethiopiens, ch. 6 and 7; and Crummey, Land and society, 29-35 and as indexed.
36 C. F. Beckingham and G. W B. Huntingford, The PresterJohn of the Indies, 2 vols. (London: Cambridge University Press for the Hakluyt Society, 1961).
37 Getatchew Haile, 'A history of the Tabot of Atronssa Maryam in Amhara (Ethiopia)', Paideuma: Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 34 (1988), 13-22. The church's wealth impressed both Alvares, for whom see Beckingham and Huntingford, Prester John, 11, 332-3; and the chronicler of the jihadist Ahmad Gran, for whom see Chihab ed-Din, Histoire de la conquete, 311-13. See also, M.-L. Derat, 'Atronsa Maryam', in Encyclopedia Mthiopica, 1, 394-5.
One function of the royal church was to serve as a dynastic burial site, and later kings would be buried in churches of their own foundation. But the royal church also served other functions. Founded by kings, not monks, these churches were beholden to the former, from whose favour they derived their wealth and from association with whom they derived their prestige. Reciprocally, in their magnificence they manifested monarchy to regional and local populations. Alvares saw them as quite distinct from monasteries, which characterised the landscape of northern Ethiopia, but, despite their similarities to the great 'collegiate' churches of medieval Europe, they retained their links to the monastic orders, and typically had the status of gädam, or sanctuary, a word often taken as synonymous with 'monastery'.38 So they straddled the European divide between 'secular' as opposed to 'monastic' churches. Characteristic features were: the conceptualisation of their clergy as däbtära, a term which Alvares renders as 'canon';39 royal initiative in their founding; richness of continuing royal patronage; and the church as royal tomb and shrine. The royal churches were supported primarily by grants of land, some lands providing revenues derived from tribute and rent, for support of the Mass and maintenance of the church fabric, other lands providing direct support for the clergy with which the churches were staffed. Some churches also enjoyed the right to tax local markets and benefited from the fees, which derived from their judicial rights over the lands under their control.
The royal churches also played useful roles within the diffuse structure of ecclesiastical organisation, which, in many respects, was minimal. The principal monastic orders had national visibility, but were held together by informal fraternal ties, rather than by any tighter governance. The metropolitan bishops had hierarchical prestige, but the hierarchy was extremely flat and prestige was
38 Beckingham and Huntingford, Prester John, 1, 256. For the meaning of gädam, see Kasaté Berhan Tasamma, YaAmarenüaMäzgäbä Qalat (Addis Ababa: Artistic Printing Press, 1951 Eth. Cal.), 1192; I. Guidi, Vocabolario Amarico-Italiano (Rome: Istituto per l'Oriente, 1953; reprint ofthe edition of 1901), cc. 776-7;J. Baeteman, DictionnaireAmarigna-Français suivi d'un vocabulaire Francais-Amarigna (Dire Dawa: Imprimerie St Lazare, 1929), cc. 1009-10. For an example of a foundation in which the establishment of sanctuary is central, see D. Crummey, 'Theology and political conflict during the Zamana Masafent: the cast of Esté in Bagémder', in Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Ethiopian Studies, Moscow, 26-29 August 1986, ed. A. Gromyko etal. (Moscow: Nauka, 1988), v, 201-11.
39 Dabtam, originally 'tabernacle' or 'tent': A. Dillmann, Lexicon Linguae Mthiopicae cum Indice Latino (Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1970; reprint of the original edition of 1865), c. 1106. By derivation the term was originally applied to the clergy who served in the churches of the royal camp; by further derivation it acquired the meaning of'cantor': Guidi, Vocabolario, cc. 671-2; Baeteman, Dictionnaire, 908; Tasamma, Mazgaba Qalat, 1098. Increasingly it also referred to specialists in various branches of church learning.
Was this article helpful?