Copia de una carta que escrivio el Padre Tomas de Barros
Copia de una carta que escrivio el Padre Tomas de Barros
Copia de una carta que escrivio el Padre Tomas de Barros
Copia de una carta que escrivio el Padre Tomas de Barros

BARROS, Tomás de. Copia de una carta que escrivio el Padre Tomas de Barros de la Compañia de Jesus en junio de 622. al Padre General, en que declara lo que los de la Co…

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jesuits and the blue nile.

BARROS, Tomás de. Copia de una carta que escrivio el Padre Tomas de Barros de la Compañia de Jesus en junio de 622. al Padre General, en que declara lo que los de la Compañia hizieron en el imperio de Etiopia, en el dicho año de 622. [?Madrid: s.n., c. 1622.]

Folio (295 x 202mm). Late 19th-century calf-backed grey boards by Lloyd, London, spine lettered in gilt; ff. [9]-14; woodcut initial; extremities a little rubbed and bumped, short cracks on joints, some light browning and damp-marking, skillful marginal repairs, that on f. 3 touching text, otherwise a clean copy; provenance: early manuscript foliation in upper margins; Maggs Brothers, London (loosely-inserted invoice dated 1999, sold to:) Bent Einer Juel-Jensen (1922-2006, his Ge'ez booklabel on upper pastedown).
Rare first edition. In the second half of the 16th century, Portuguese missionaries established a presence in Ethiopia, which was perceived as a bulwark against Ottoman expansion in the area and the consequent threat to Portuguese colonial and commercial interests. Following the conversion of the Ethiopian emperor Susenyos to Catholicism in 1622, the Jesuits increased their presence and missionary work in the country dramatically, attempting to reform traditional religious practices. These efforts were resented by the Ethiopians, and social unrest and civil war followed, leading to the abdication of Susenyos and the accession to the throne of his son Fasiladas, who rejected Catholicism and eventually either expelled or executed the Jesuits remaining in the country by 1634. The author of this letter to Muzio Vitelleschi, General of the Society of Jesus, was the Portuguese missionary Tomás de Barros (1591-1658). De Barros was born in Coimbra and entered the Society of Jesus in Goa in 1610. He lectured on humanities, philosophy and theology at the Jesuit college in Goa, was the Superior of the missions in Mogor and Tibet, and Rector of Damam, Baçaim (Vasai) and Goa. This letter, written at an important point during the Jesuit expansion of the mission in Ethiopia, is divided into sections reporting the progress of the Residence of Gorgora (Susenyos' capital), and referring to the construction of the cathedral there for Susenyos in 1621 by the Spanish Jesuit Pedro Páez (1564-1622), a 'nuevo y magnifico templo' (f. 10v); the Residence of Colela; the Residence of Ancaxa; and the Residence of Fremona.
The work concludes with the 'Carta del Emperor Seltan Cegued' on f. 14v, a letter from Susenyos to Antonio Fernández (1570-1642), the Superior of the Jesuit mission in Ethiopia, who had travelled via Goa to Fremona, arriving there in 1604. In 1613 Fernández was commissioned by Susenyos to undertake an embassy to the Pope and the King of Spain, travelling to Mogadishu via the Blue Nile; however, the party was captured and sent back to Fremona in 1614. Susenyos' letter offers condolences to Fernández on the death of Pedro Páez, who had been sent to Ethiopia in 1603 to attempt to restore relations with the country. Fluent in Arabic, Páez disguised himself as an Armenian and landed at Massawa, from where he managed to travel inland. Having learnt Ge'ez, he was able to establish good relations with Susenyos, and in 1613 persuaded him 'to write to the pope requesting support for the mission, as well as a Catholic patriarch. The missionary was granted land at Gorgora, on the southern shore of Lake Tana, to build a monastery for his order and a palace for himself. Paez travelled widely in Ethiopia, largely in association with Susenyos' military campaigns. In 1618, during the course of his travels, he is credited with the discovery of the source of the Blue Nile. Setting out from Dankaz, he had passed around the northern, western and southern shores of Lake Tana [...], and at the overflow from Lake Tana near Bahardar he described the fountains which he regarded as the source of the only Nile (21.4.[16]18). He travelled to the Atala Falls (=Tisiat Falls) and penetrated southward into the gorge' (Howgego Encyclopedia of Exploration to 1800, p. 782). Susneyos' letter relates his reaction to the news of Páez' death, which 'causò en mi tan gran dolor, que no hallè cosa con que divertirme ni contenerme de derremar muchas lagrimas, y dar sentidos suspiros' (f. 14v). The Spanish text of Barros' work was reprinted in Barcelona in 1624 and an Italian translation was included in Lettere annue d'Etiopia, Malabar, Brasil, e Goa. Dall'anno 1620, fin' al 1624 (Rome: 1627).
This copy is from the library of the physician, bibliophile, and noted Ethiopian scholar Bent Juel-Jensen, who first visited Ethiopia in 1973 and returned with the Oxford University Expedition to Ethiopia in 1974, subsequently editing with G. Rowell Rock-Hewn Churches of Eastern Tigray: an Account of the Oxford University Expedition to Ethiopia 1974 (Oxford: 1975). Having learnt both Amharic and Ge'ez and become expert on the Aksumite coins of Ethiopia, Juel-Jensen also published The Evolution of the Ethiopian Cross: Evidence from Aksumite Coinage, from Icons, Manuscripts, and from Some Pectoral, Hand and Processional Crosses (Oxford: 1990) and (co-written with Stuart Munro-Hay) Aksumite Coinage (London: 1995). This work is rare on the market; only one other copy (the Winterton copy) can be traced in ABPC since 1975.
Barbosa Machado III, p. 726; Fumagalli 1617; Sommervogel I, col. 928; Streit XVI, 2545; cf. Palau 24923 (Barcelona: 1624 edition).

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