top of page

Missionaries in Early Modern Ethiopia


Founding the Jesuit mission to Ethiopia

The mission to Ethiopia was one of the Society's first planned enterprises beyond European lands and among its most ill-fated. This article offers a brief overview of the religious and political backdrop against which Loyola drafted his directives, and engages in a critical reading of three key documents.

Losing Ethiopia

“There is only one Catholic Church in the world and it can only be one under the Roman Pontiff and not under that of Alexandria.” Thus spoke Ignatius of Loyola in 1555, addressing the Ethiopian Emperor Galawdéwos in relation to the Ethiopian Church’s tradition of dependence on the Egyptian Coptic Church. Since its beginnings, with few exceptions, the head of the Ethiopian Church, known as abun or metropolitan, was an Egyptian cleric appointed by the patriarch of Alexandria. In Loyola’s eyes, the dependence on Alexandria was one among many “errors and abuses” making Ethiopian faith an aberration and requiring the attention of Jesuit proselytism....

On the Mission's Aftermath

This paper is dedicated to an appraisal of Ethiopia’s relations with the Catholic and Muslim worlds in the aftermath of the failed Jesuit mission in the country (1555–1632). It contrasts Ethiopia’s policy of isolation from Catholic Europe and the resulting failures of the Franciscan order to re-establish a missionary presence in the Horn with the Ethiopian monarchy’s proactive pursuit of diplomatic ties with various Muslim societies of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean basins.

bottom of page