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Sentenced to Death

Historical Perspectives

Brief Summary of the past

The Eighteenth Century


Sentenced to Death

Abba Michael Kefle Giorgis parted company with Abuna Tobia near Debre Damo as he had to look after his dying father. For the next sixteen months Abuna Tobia lived an eremitical life close to the ruined monastery of "Biet Meskel" at Ora (ዖራ) near Zelanbessa. His growing popularity nearly proved to be his undoing, as he was excommunicated and would have been thrown down a precipice on 10th January 1791 but for the timely intervention of two Orthodox priests.

In a letter dated 25th September 1792 Abuna Tobia wrote that the "Christian order had been miserably destroyed from Ambasel (the region of Dese) up to Kemkem." For three months he lived a hidden life, wandering from place to place trying to avoid the turmoil that swept the land. Eventually, soldiers trapped him. After being held their prisoner for eight days, they decided to kill him. Three times the sword was raised to deliver the fatal blow, but on each occasion uncontrollable spasms seized the soldier and he was unable to deliver the blow.


Without going into details, Abuna Tobia merely summarized his experiences by saying that he "began to reflect how the scattered sheep might be gathered together into the one sheepfold of Christ."

Only later did Abuna Tobia learn that the Patriarch of Egypt had declared him to be an outlaw in 1792. In each of the six letters dispatched by the Patriarch to Ethiopian princes he said: "We wish to inform you that the Ethiopian named Tobias first went to Rome where he was consecrated a bishop and then returned to Ethiopia...Diligently seek out this deceiver and when found imprison him; after lengthy torture kill him...."


For the next four years Abuna Tobia lived a hunted life. When eventually he left Ethiopia in February 1797 it was not out of feat for his life. "I wish," he wrote, "to end my life among Christians...because for four years in Ethiopia I have lived without celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass, without making a sacramental confession, nor being renewed by the Body of Christ...."

For five months he walked across the Nubian Desert before reaching the Franciscan hospice at Nagade on 9th July 1797. From there he went to Cairo where he was not allowed, even in private, to celebrate Mass according to the Ethiopian rite, despite the oath he had taken at the insistence of Pope Pius VI. In Cairo, moreover, he fell sick with the plague and died on 7th May 1801.

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