A voyage to Abyssinia (Salt)/Appendix 3

No. III.

A short Account of a Voyage made into Ethiopia, by Father Remedio of Bohemia, Martino of Bohemia, and Antonio of Allepo, of the 0rder of "Minori Reformati" of St. Francis, and Missionaries "of the Society for propagating the Faith," in Egypt.[1]

In the month of June, 1751, I, Brother Remedio of Bohemia, reformed Missionary for propagating the faith, was recalled from the town of Girge, in Upper Egypt, to Grand Cairo, where, by our Prefect established there, I was appoined to a mission destined for Ethiopia, together with Father Martino of Bohemia, and Antonio of Aleppo, of the same order. As it was wholly impossible for a few persons to penetrate into that country by land, on account of the various tribes of Arabs which infest the road, our departure was delayed till the 27th of August, when we set out, provided with such things as were necessary to found there a new mission, in company with a caravan of the Turks destined for Medina and Mecca, to adore their false prophet Mahomet. For threee days we travelled over the deserts of Egypt, where there is neither bread, nor water, nor other sustenance to be procured, on which account travellers carry with them provisions from Cairo, sufficient to last till their arrival at Suez. During these three days journey we suffered heat that was absolutely insupportable; the whole desert being flat, sandy, waste, and barren; where travellers are tormented with such burning thirst, that before the caravan comes to its halting place, it wears them out with languor and weariness: and as they cannot walk on foot, owing to the burning heat of the sand, they are compelled to ride on camels, whose tedious march and uneasy motion soon makes every bone in the body ache with fatigue. Being obliged to content ourselves with a scanty supply of water and biscuit, we slept but little, partly from restlessness, and partly on account of robbers, who are so numerous, as to prevent Christians from undertaking this voyage, except in the month of August, along with the Turkish caravan, (composed of more than 100,000 souls,) without the protection of which they would certainly lose their lives and property.

Having passed this dangerous desert on the first of September, we entered into the city of Suez, the first port in the Red Sea, where, through the recommendation of some Catholic merchants at Cairo, we procured a passage on the tenth, having to pay for this first embarkation 70 zequins; notwithstanding which we were confined in a place so miserably small, that we had scarcely room to lift up our heads. In this way we commenced our voyage, passed a lake named "Pharoun" on the 14th, and on the 17th paid our salutation at a distance to Mount Sinai; during which time our only food was biscuit, and our beverage stinking water full of vermin, for which, nauseous and disagreeable as it was, we were obliged to pay eight medines, or baiocchi for a small cupful.

On the 4th of October we arrived at Jidda, where if we had not been warmly recommended by our Greek Catholics to a noble Turkish merchant, we should have sustained the most grievous hardships from the Greek schismatics, who by some means or other having discovered our object in Ethiopia, excited against us a great deal of murmuring among the Turks, having determined, at all hazards, to put a stop to the long journey we had undertaken. But that which the hardened malice of false Christians endeavoured to prevent, the divine providence brought about by means of the Turks themselves; so that after a short persecution, when we humbly asked the Vizier license to proceed to the Island of Lohaia, he, to our great delight, not only gave his consent to our departure, even accompanied it with a recommendation to the chief commanding that island, where we happily arrived on the 2d of November. Here we staid ten days, waiting for a passage to Massowa, where, finally, after many travails and hardships, we got into port on the feast of St. Andrew's day.

Being desirous of permission from the Emperor of Ethiopia to land, without which the Governor of the Island would permit no Christian to enter that kingdom, we sent our humble petition, by two expresses, to court; and after eighty days journey, they returned with a gracious letter from the Emperor, accompanied, moreover, by two of his officers, thirty servants, and sixteen mules, to carry our baggage to the royal city of Gondar.

The letter of the Emperor was as follows: "Praise be to God alone—from the presence of the Negush-Negashi, from the Emperor of the Christians and Turks, Successor of the Lord of the World, who is constituted for the affairs of this world and for the affairs of the Faith, as concerned with the business of the creature, by which God hath adjusted and put into good order men, and hath enlightened the land and the provinces. He is brave in council, perfect in prudence, and profitable; on which account he hath left a memory that is spread abroad over the whole earth, and on account of his justice, goodness, and beneficence, he is dwelling in the empire of the antiquity of time, having the generation of his father, grandfather, and great grandfather. He is the metal of liberty, beneficence, and bounty. Our Lord, the supreme Emperor and honourable King now happily reigning, is the hill of the Creature through the magnificence by which they are distinguished in particular and in general; bearing such and so great marks of his favour, that they exceed in numbers the stars themselves, and the multitude or density of the clouds. He is adorned with so many qualifications, that scarcely any one who breathes this air can equal him, in respect of which all other men would appear vile. He is of such sublime eminence, that all Kings would be eager to imitate him, but would not be able to attain it; because they would find him of all the princes of Christendom the most noble, and truly he is the graatest of all the princes of the Nazarene faith, and the most excellent since the time that he was baptised.[2] He is the defender of the Evangelical law, the Propagator of justice between Christian and Turkish souls. He is established in the Christian nation in the city of Gondar, which is guarded and protected by the Emperor, Tasu Adiam Sagad,[3] son of the Emperor Bagatta Masick Sagad.[4] May his days be multiplied and his justice, and may the nights of his prosperity be continually renewed, through the excellence of Jesus Christ and his Mother. So be it. The Emperor salutes the three physicians, and begs for you every blessing, declaring that his wish is that you may preserve your health. Come quickly to us with our servants, and assure yourselves that nothing shall be done but what will be agreeable to you, and will rejoice your hearts with a happy welcome and reception; and receive from us honour, justice, and safety."

Besides this letter, we had another, full of the same kindness, from Signor George Braco,[5] of Scio, a Greek schismatic, and treasurer of the Emperor, which is as follows:

"Honour to God alone.—To the three present friends, noble countrymen, honoured and beloved physicians, who come from Grand Cairo, we announce health and safety, protesting that ye need have no more fear. We thank God for your safe arrival, and that, having escaped the dangers of the sea, and of men, you are come to us. All that you have desired came to the ears of the Emperor, who graciously consents to your wishes, and sends his servants to take charge for your security and defence. Do not delay to come quickly. God, the Almighty God, forward you on your way! Peace be to you! I am, and shall remain your true friend."

Comforted and secured by these letters, the Governor could no longer detain us; so with gratitude to the Lord for freedom once more out of the hands of the Turks, on the 25th of February, 1752, we departed from Messava, the last port in the Red Sea. But our sufferings and disasters did not end here; for as there are no regular roads in this country, our way lay over high mountains, deep vallies, and through impenetrable woods, in passing which we encountered many dangers, and grievous hardships. More than once we were obliged to climb the tops of the mountains on our hands and feet, which were sorely rent and torn with brambles and thorny bushes. No provisions being here procurable, travellers are obliged to carry the meal for their bread. No house, nor inn, being found here, every body is obliged to lie in the open air, exposed to the depredations of robbers, and liable every moment to become the prey of wolves, lions, tigers, and beasts of a similar description, which are almost continually met with, of all which I shall cease to speak, from the horror and dread with which the very thought of them still afflicts me. I shall only say, that in the course of this most hazardous expedition, we often repeated that we would much rather die in the country, than attempt to return by a road on which we had experienced so much danger, tribulation, and misery.

At last on the 19th March, we arrived at Gondar, where we were received with great joy, and were pleasantly lodged in the royal palace. On the following day the Emperor, who at this time did not reside in Gondar, but at Kaha, graciously sent for us to an audience; and after we had made a profound reverence, he spoke to us in the following words:

"I embrace you with all my heart.—I welcome you with gladness, and congratulate you on your happy arrival. While yet a child, I wished ardently to have (men like) you in my kingdom; on this account, I exceedingly rejoice at your coming, and I promise you as long as I live, my favour, protection, and assistance."

He then began to interrogate us with respect to the following points:—firstly, Where are the tables of Moses? secondly, concerning the Queen of Saba? thirdly, In what language will Christ our Lord judge the world? fourthly, In what language did he speak when conversing with men, and what was the first spoken language? He asked many other questions respecting Europeans, of their customs, and manner of living, which we answered in the best way we were able, to the content and satisfaction of the Emperor; who, gratified by our discourse, rose from his throne, which was fashioned like a bed, and spoke thus—"this house shall be your habitation:" passing in the mean time to take up his residence in another habitation contiguous to the one allotted to us.

On the following day he visited us in person, when we humbly presented a letter sent by the Superior of our mission. The Emperor asked if it were from the Pope? to which I answered in the negative; as, from our journey having been hastily arranged in Egypt, the news could not yet have reached (Rome) of our mission into Ethiopia; but however I did not doubt, so soon as his Holiness should hear of our arrival, of our fortunate continuance in the country, and still more of the many gracious favours which his majesty had conferred upon us, he would transmit letters full of paternal and sincere affection. For the following fifteen days we stayed at Kaha, and were every day consoled and delighted with the visits of the Emperor. At last, on the 8th of April, we set out with him for Gondar. During all this time we resided in a royal palace which belonged to his deceased father, in perfect peace and tranquillity, and were plentifully provided with food. If this had not been the case, we should have suffered much, not only from a great scarcity which for eight years had afflicted this country, owing to the ravages of the locusts, but from our salary, which we had received two years in advance, decreasing daily, owing to our numerous expenses by land and by sea. But the Divine Providence who never deserts those who trust in its bounty, was pleased to hold out for our succour the gracious and copious favour, not only of the Emperor, but of the Queen his mother.[6]

In all this time, which was about six months in continuance, we instructed many of the royal family in the Catholic faith; and having every day in our house a great concourse of the principal ministers of the country, nay even of priests and of the common people, we gave up our time to instruct them all in the Christian doctrine, and that in their own Chaldean tongue, which, by the grace of God we had in a few months acquired; so that many were enlightened and convinced by our instruction, and being troubled in their guilty consciences, cried out publicly, "We are vile Christians, and shall without fail go to hell." Others even shewed themselves desirous to make profession of the Catholic faith; but we, yet feeling ourselves insecure of a permanent footing in the kingdom, deferred it to a more favourable opportunity. At length, after great demonstration of love from the Emperor, the ministers, the people, and some of the priests, we thought ourselves safe, and promised ourselves a copious harvest; the Emperor having already destined me for his ambassador to the Apostolic See, for the advantage of the catholic faith in his kingdom: when, lo! the enemy of the human race excited against the King and against us a great rebellion among the people; insomuch that the Archbishop Gofto, fearing to lose his emoluments, threatened to excommunicate the King and all the people, if he did not immediately expel us out of the kingdom. In a word, during the night, not only the furious populace, but also many monks more outrageous than the populace, cried out to the King, rang the bells, and demanded our expulsion with loud cries and threats of death. The Emperor, awakened and confounded by such an uproar, on the 2d of October sent for us to an audience, and communicated to us the painful intelligence that we must depart, which he did in the following words: "It is with the greatest reluctance that I have to acquaint you with the necessity of your departure out of my kingdom, on account of the rebellion of my people, who threaten to kill both myself and you, unless you instantly go away. For some time past murmurings have arisen against you, which I have sought to appease; but it is no longer in my power to allay them, and therefore hasten your departure, and avert this destruction from my head, as well as your own."

To these words of the Emperor I answered, that we could not go away without first receiving the consent of the sacred council; and thereupon I humbly prayed him to bear with us patiently till he should receive a letter from Rome. Meanwhile we determined not to leave our house, being much rather disposed to die for the Catholic faith, than to disgrace our ministry by a shameful flight. For three months, or thereabouts we continued to remain against the will of the Emperor, though more than once pressed to depart, in which time we frequently went into the presence of the Emperor and of the Queen-mother (Regina Madre;) speaking to them with evangelical license on the subject of the Catholic faith, and threatening them at the same time with eternal damnation if they did not yield obedience to the truths of the Gospel; repeating to them the words of the Evangelist: "Fear not for those things which destroy the body, for they cannot hurt the soul; but rather fear ye for those things which have the power to destroy the soul and body eternally."

Finally, after three months of very severe affliction, on the 3rd day of the feast of the Nativity, in the year of our Lord 1752, we were by main force driven out of the palace; in leaving which, we shook the dust off from our feet, and publicly upbraided the Emperor and his people with their infidelity, exclaiming with a loud voice, "We are driven away by false Christians; let us fly then and seek refuge among the Gentiles." Thence we retired among the Turks (Mahomedans) at a league distance from Gondar, trying once more if it might not be possible to remain in the country; but all was in vain, though during a whole month we practised every means in our power to regain the favour of the Emperor, and to appease the people; and so being unwilling to expose our lives imprudently, and without any profit to those souls, we determined to return; and to this determination we were more particularly led by receiving a letter from our superior at Cairo, from which we learned that it was the wish of our most illustrious and most reverend Monsignor the Secretary of the Propaganda, that if we could not have the free exercise of our religion in that kingdom, and saw no hope of converting the king, his family, or more especially the monks, we should not remain from vain motives; as that people (the Abyssinians) have been always esteemed inconstant and faithless.

By this letter, then, being fully informed of the intentions and wishes of the Sacred Council, as obedient sons, we announced at once, in the name of the Lord, our intention of quitting the country; when lo! the Emperor issued an order to arrest by force the Father Antonio of Aleppo, for the purpose of setting him to write a Pentateuch in Arabic. As I neither chose nor was empowered to give my consent to this, I sent the said Father to the Emperor, to say that it would be neither just nor feasible that one should stay alone without a companion. To which the Emporor suddenly with anger and rage answered, "I know that your Superior (for unworthy as I was, I acted in this capacity) wishes to take you with him; but I will never consent to it; nay, I swear that if he attempt to take you by force, I will send after him my servants, and cause him to be arrested, together with his companion and you, and bring you back to me either with your wills or against your wills." In consequence of this I left Father Antonio at Gondar, but under the condition and royal promise, that when his book should be written, he should be released, and sent in safety to Grand Cairo, where I believe him now happily arrived.

I, thereupon, and my companion, Brother Martino de Bohemia, turned ourselves afresh to the passage of the steep mountains and impracticable woods of Ethiopia, suffering in this new and most laborious journey, the severest inconveniences, dangers, and fatigue; so that being in a manner stripped naked, and robbed of every thing most necessary to us, we became objects of pity and contempt even to Mahomedans.

Having got to Messava, the Governor demanded thirty scudes (dollars) for leave to depart; but seeing and proving by examination our actual poverty and misery, he contented himself with fifteen. Hence we crossed the Red Sea and went to Mocha, where we found several French merchant ships from India, and, thanks to their kindness and charity, we gained a passage to the port of Pondicherry.

Signor Dupless was at this time governor of the settlement, who received us with much kindness and attention; and finding that we had been driven from our mission, so poor and ill-equipped, he kindly paid two hundred Roman crowns for our panage to L'Orient in Bretagne. From that place we embarked for Marseilles, and from Marseilles to Cività Vecchia, whence we finally removed to the holy city of Rome, for the purpose of delivering in a faithful account of our voyage and mission into Ethiopia, and at the same time most humbly to kiss the feet of our most holy Pontiff Benedict XIV. happily reigning, and the sacred purple of all the eminent Cardinals of the Propaganda.

From the Convent of St. Peter in "Montorio" 26th July 1754.

Signed Fra. Remedio de Bohemia,

Vice Prefect of Ethiopia.

  1. Vide Lord Valentia's Travels, III. p. 210, and Appendix to Mr. Bruce's Travels, VII. p. 65.
  2. I have a strong suspicion that this part of the title is the fabrication of the Monks themselves.
  3. The name of this prince was Yasous, and the title taken on his coronation was Adam Segued.
  4. Bacuffa, it should be; and Malec Segued was the title he assumed.
  5. A brother of Petros, whom Mr. Bruce mentions.
  6. This was the Iteghé whom Bruce afterwards met with, and the fact of this lady being attached to these Catholics explains many doubtful points in that author's narration.