ETHIOPIAN PRELATES: SAWIROS (fl. late eleventh century)
Sawiros was immediate successor to his maternal uncle, Abuna Fiqtor, who had reared him in Ethiopia. The episcopate of Sawiros was distinguished by a series of events, which are recorded primarily in the History of the Patriarchs.
After Fiqtor’s death (c. 1077), Sawiros went to Egypt, where he was consecrated as metropolitan bishop by Patriarch CYRIL II (1078-1092). To aid him in this undertaking, Sawiros had obtained preliminary consent from the powerful amir al-Juyush Badr al- Jamali, vizier (1074-1094) of the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir, by promising him gifts and improved treatment of the Muslims living in Christian Ethiopia. Immediately upon his return to Ethiopia from Egypt, however, Sawiros was opposed as bishop by the Coptic monk ‘Abdun, who, under the name of Quril (Cyril), had earlier tried to usurp the episcopal throne from Abuna Fiqtor. Sawiros emerged victorious, ‘Abdun being forced to flee with whatever belongings he could collect. The fugitive monk sought safety on the island of Dahlak Kebr (off the coast of Massawa), but was arrested there by al-Mubarak (first of the archipelago sultans), who stripped him of all his goods and sent him to Cairo, where the vizier ordered his execution in A.M. 802/A.D. 1085-1086.
Sawiros, having been part of his uncle’s entourage, knew Ethiopia well and enjoyed considerable prestige. Thus, he was able to undertake a number of reforms, distinguishing himself above all by his fight against polygamy. Even the king (unnamed in the History of the Patriarchs) renounced all his women, save his wife and one concubine who had borne him children.
In October 1088, Sawiros, via his brother, Rijal, sent a present to Badr al-Jamali. But the vizier scorned the gift and complained to Rijal—before the patriarch and many Coptic bishops, who had been urgently summoned—that Sawiros had not fulfilled his early promises, in particular, his promise to build four mosques for the Muslims of Ethiopia. But Rijal replied that, on the contrary, his brother had even been imprisoned by the king of Ethiopia precisely because he had agreed to the construction of seven mosques— mosques that had been rapidly demolished by the Ethiopians. Thereupon, the vizier commanded Patriarch Cyril II to write to the Ethiopian sovereign, urging him to respect the Muslims. A delegation, led by two Coptic bishops, carried the patriarch’s letter to Ethiopia, along with a letter from Badr al-Jamali, in which he threatened to destroy the Coptic churches of Egypt if the king did not satisfy his demands. The king, however, answered the vizier with an even harsher letter, wherein he threatened all Islam, including Mecca, with severe reprisals.
The History of the Patriarchs gives no further information about Abuna Sawiros, but the Ethiopian Synaxarion relates that after ten years, he left Ethiopia to return to Egypt. However, this return was probably a prudent recall, agreed upon between the Coptic patriarch and the Ethiopian king, as a result of deteriorating relations between Egypt and Ethiopia. This could also explain why certain traditional lists of Ethiopian metropolitan bishops state that Sawiros was “exiled by Alexandria.” The Ethiopian Synaxarion further notes that Sawiros died in Egypt and was buried at the Monastery of Anba Macarius (DAYR ANBA MAQAR).
It is probable (but not certain) that Sawiros’s successor was Abuna Giyorgis I.
- Budge, E. A. W., trans. The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, Vol. 4, p. 995. Cambridge, 1928.
- Guidi, I. “Le liste dei metropoliti di’Abissinia.” Bessarione 6, ser. 1 (1899):8, n. 2.
- Renaudot, E. Historia Patriarcharum Alexandrinorum Jacobitarum, 64. 452-53, 462-64. Paris, 1713.
- Rossini, C. Storia d’Etiopia, pp. 287-89. Bergamo, 1928.
- Taddesse Tamrat. Church and State in Ethiopia 1270-1527, pp. 47-50, 116, 209. Oxford, 1972.
- Tedeschi, S. “Note storiche sulle isole Dahlak.” Proceedings of the Third International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (Addis Ababa 1966), Vol. 1, p. 58 (n. 42 refers to the date of execution of ‘Abdun). Addis Ababa, 1969.
- Trimingham, J. Islam in Ethiopia, pp. 63-65. Oxford, 1952.