The title and office of the eccage (high church dignitary) have been of national importance in Ethiopia for several centuries. Insofar as the ABUN was alien to the language and culture of the country, it was necessary for an Ethiopian dignitary to be appointed as chief administrator of the church. The Nebura’ed of Axum had filled the office until the thirteenth century, and the Aqqabe Sa‘at of Hayq monastery in the fourteenth and fifteenth, followed by the eccage in the subsequent centuries.
The philological origin of the title eccage is obscure, and a few inconclusive opinions have been expressed about it. It was in any case used as the title of the abbot of Dabra Libanos, a famous monastery in Shewa at least since the sixteenth century. According to some church traditions, Saint Takla Haymanot (1215-1313) was said to have been the first to bear the title; but the royal chronicles do not attest to this. The abbots of Dabra Libanos in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were referred to by such terms as aba menet (head of the monastery), abba (father), and mamher (master).
The dignitary seems to have gained special importance first through the crucial role of eccage Abraham during the reign of Emperor Susenyos in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The eccage resided near the imperial court wherever it might be, and his residence was a sanctuary where criminals and political fugitives alike could take temporary refuge until he brought them to justice or permitted their escape to safety out of the region. The eccage was the highest church dignitary and as such, he presided over church councils together with the sovereign and the abun. He also participated in other councils that dealt with matters of state.
He acted, besides, as the liaison officer between the imperial court and the clergy.
In the spiritual sphere, the eccage’s authority did not exceed that of a priest. He was a monk chosen from the order of Dabra Libanos regardless of his origin, but perhaps on grounds of his learning, integrity, and wisdom. He could be dismissed from office at any time by order of the sovereign or at the demand of the society of monks in Dabra Libanos. He could by no means substitute for the abun as the spiritual head of the church, though traditions allege that Saint Takla Haymanot had combined both functions. Abuna Sawiros and Abun Baslyos have certainly done so in the twentieth century.
- Cerulli, E. “Gli abbati di Dabra Libanos, capi del monachismo etiopico, secondo la ‘lista rimata’ (sec. XIV-VIII).” Orientalia n.s., 12 (1943):226-53; 13 (1944):137-82.
- . “Gli abbati di Dabra Libanos, capi del monachismo etiopico, secondo le liste recenti (sec. XVII-XX).” Orientalia n.s., 14 (1945): 143-71.
- Dasta Takla Wald. ‘Addis Yamarenna Mazgaba Qalat. Bakahnatenna Bahagara Sab Qwanqwa Tasafa, p. 916. Addis Ababa, 1962.
- Guèbrè Sellasié. Chronique du règne de Ménélik II, roi des rois d’Ethiopie, ed. M. de Coppet, Vol. 1, pp. 279-82. Paris, 1930-1931.
- Guidi, I. Vocabolario amarico-italiano, p. 511. Rome, 1901. Repr., 1953. Supplement, p. 148. Rome, 1940.
- Heruy Walda Sellase. Wazema. Bamagestu Ya’ityopeyan Nagastat Yatarik Ba‘al lamakbar, pp. 101-120. Addis Ababa, 1921.
- Kidana Wald Kefle. Mashafa Sawasew Wagess Wamazgaba Qalat Haddis. Nebabu Bage‘ez Feccew Bamarenna, p. 457. Addis Ababa, 1948.
- Mahtama Sellase Walda Masqal. Zekra Nagar. Addis Ababa, 1942; 2nd ed., Addis Ababa, 1962.