BARTALOMEWOS (d. c. 1435)

Information about the of Bartalomewos (Bartholonew) is scant, even though it covered the lengthy period from the end of the reign of Negus Dawit I (1380-1412) though the entire reign of Negus Yeshaq (1413-1430). Successor to Salama II, Bartalomewos arrived in Ethiopia in 1391 of the Ethiopian calendar (A.D. 1398-1399), according to the date listed in a local chronicle (Annals of Addi-Neamin). This was at a time when Christian Ethiopia was undergoing a delicate crisis. Dawit, having seized power by eliminating his older brother, Negus Newaya Maryam, with the help of his sister, Del Sefa, had to face the opposition of certain elements of the military and the monasteries of Shewa that contested his actions. Therefore, it was a dozen years after the of Abuna Salama II before the king was able to have the patriarch send a new metropolitan to Ethiopia.

Bartalomewos arrived in Ethiopia with important information for the negus: an atmosphere of peace between Christians and Muslims had existed for some thirty years in the Mediterranean, and this was accompanied by a remarkable entente among the various Christian communities (Copts, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox). Upon the advice of Bartalomewos and with the assistance of the Coptic patriarch I (1378-1409), the negus sent two missions to Europe in search of religious relics supposed to attest divine favor toward Dawit and consolidate his throne thereby. The first mission reached in 1402, and the other arrived at Rome in 1404. It was the first mission, whose spokesman was a certain Florentine, Antonio Bartoli, that brought from Venice the relics desired by the negus.

However, inside Ethiopia, Bartalomewos became embroiled in a religious quarrel. Certain monasteries in the north of Ethiopia maintained that Saturday should be observed as the Sabbath, according to Holy Scripture, whereas other monasteries, supported by the metropolitan, defended the observance of Sunday, in conformity with Coptic tradition. Those favoring Saturday were the monks of the order of Ewostatewos and, in particular, Fileppos, abbot of Dabra Bizan. The metropolitan’s principal ally was Saraqa Berhan, abbot of Dabra Hayq and counselor to the negus. Bartalomewos won the first round. In 1400 he convoked a counsel during which Fileppos was retained at Dabra Hayq under the guard of Saraqa Berhan, while his partisans were sent away far from their monasteries. However, in 1404, Dawit decided to reverse his stand. He freed the punished prelates and authorized the observance of “the two Sabbaths.” According to Taddesse Tamrat, the attitude of the Order of Ewostatewos was dictated more by nationalistic sentiments than by religious considerations, and this reversal weighed heavily against Bartalomewos and his immediate successors for a long time to come.

During the reign of Negus Yeshaq, Bartalomewos had to suffer another difficult period. of sympathizing with the Zamika’elite movement (a current initiated by a monk named Zamika’el), the metropolitan had to defend himself before a board of inquiry and finally was forced to condemn formally the Zamika’elite doctrine. Soon afterward, there arose the heretical movement of the Estifanosites (named after a monk called Estifanos, or Stephan), which “refused to venerate Mary and the Cross,” but which was also inspired by political considerations. The Estifanosites were condemned and persecuted during the fifteenth century, but Bartalomewos, who was present at their beginnings, does not seem to have played a role in their persecution (see ETHIOPIAN HERESIES AND THEOLOGICAL CONTRO- VERSIES).

It should be noted that an act was drawn up concerning a donation of land (Arabic, waqf) from Negus Dawit I to the Bethlehem Church (Bet Maryam) of Lalibala in Lasta. Written in Arabic, this act carries an addendum for verification and legalization written in Coptic and signed by Abuna Bartalomewos; it is dated A.M. 4 Paoni (Coptic, Ba’unah; Ethiopian, Sane) 1126 (A.D. 29 May 1410).

The exact date of the end of Bartalomewos’ is not known. He was still living when Zar’a Ya‘qob ascended the throne (June 1434), for he is mentioned in a royal document of this period. However, given the fact that he is not cited in the documents of 1436, it may be presumed that he died around 1435. His successors were Mika’el III and Gabr’el, who arrived in Ethiopia together.


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