RICHES TO RAGS: ETHIOPIA 1500-1800
'The Ambassador replied . . . that they gave great thanks to God for having fulfilled their desires in bringing Christians together with Christians.'1 Such was the principal theme of the meeting between the Portuguese Ambassador, Dom Rodrigo de Lima, and the Emperor Lebna Dengel at the latter's camp in October 1520. It certainly summarized what the Portuguese had been looking for and what the Ethiopians now greatly needed--another Christian state with which to enter into an alliance, commercial and military. As the Portuguese advanced by slow stages into Ethiopia, they had had plenty of opportunity to recognize that this was indeed, in terms they could well appreciate, a Christian country. The principal test applied upon either side would seem to have been a ritual one--the celebration of mass. The quite exceptionally detailed description of its Ethiopian form which Alvares provides (principally in chapter II of his account of the embassy), just as the insistence by Lebna Dengel that he see the Portuguese vestments and that his representatives attend the Portuguese mass (and then ask questions about any apparent ritual divergence of significance from the Ethiopian norm), all suggest that here lay the crucial test of whether Christians were meeting Christians. Both sides were satisfied, their rituals proving indeed to be remarkably close to one another.
As the embassy remained in Ethiopia for six years before leaving for Portugal, its members certainly had the opportunity to get to know the country very well. We have, as a result, Francisco Alvares' True Relation of the Lands of Prester John, the sole description by an outsider of Ethiopia in the age of its glory. As it is remarkably detailed and also remarkably unbiased, it is worth looking for a while at Christian Ethiopia in the 1520s through the eyes of Alvares, though____________________
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Publication information: Book title: The Church in Africa:1450-1950. Contributors: Adrian Hastings - Author. Publisher: Clarendon Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 130.
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