Chapter 5 Ethiopian Christians in Rome, c.1400–c.1700

In: A Companion to Religious Minorities in Early Modern Rome
Sam Kennerley
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This chapter explores the existence of Ethiopian Christians in early modern Rome. Despite the distance that separated Rome and Ethiopia and the doctrinal differences between their churches, Ethiopians were a surprisingly familiar presence in the papal city. Dozens of Ethiopian pilgrims and ambassadors are attested in Rome in the 15th century. This presence was institutionalized by the establishment of the complex of Santo Stefano dei Mori as a base for Ethiopian and other eastern Christian visitors. Santo Stefano became the primary centre for contact between Ethiopians and Catholics in the first half of the 16th century, leading to lively intellectual collaboration between figures like Tasfā Ṣeyon and Marcello Cervini. However, the importance of Santo Stefano declined in the second half of the 16th century, when organs of the Counter Reformation became increasingly important in the processing of Ethiopian visitors. The Jesuit mission to Ethiopia stimulated a final burst of exchange and activity before the effective extinction of the Ethiopian community of early modern Rome in the early 18th century. Besides exploring this history, this article recommends possible areas of future research, as well as discussing extant sources and the difficulties of their interpretation.