Afonso Mendes

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Afonso Mendes
Born 18 June 1579 (1579-06-18)
Santo Aleixo, Kingdom of Portugal
Died 21 June 1659 (1659-06-22) (aged 80)
Goa, Portuguese India
Nationality Portuguese
Occupation Jesuit theologian
Known for Patriarch of Ethiopia

Father Afonso Mendes (18 June 1579 – 21 June 1659), was a Portuguese Jesuit theologian, and Patriarch of Ethiopia from 1622 to 1634. While E.A. Wallis Budge has expressed the commonly accepted opinion of this man, as being "rigid, uncompromising, narrow-minded, and intolerant.",[1] there are some who disagree with it.[2] The writings of Mendes include Expeditionis Aethiopicae, which describes the customs and conditions of Ethiopia.


Mendes was born in Santo Aleixo.[3] He entered the Society of Jesus, where he was ordained priest, he received his doctorate in theology at the University of Coimbra, where he subsequently taught at the College of Arts. In response to the favor Emperor Susenyos of Ethiopia showed towards Catholicism, Mendes was appointed Patriarch of Ethiopia by Pope Urban VIII, and left for Ethiopia in March 1623.

The journey to Ethiopia was long and difficult. Mendes' party reached Portuguese Mozambique that September, where they were delayed by winter weather, and only reached Goa 28 May 1624.[4] After making further preparations in Goa, the Patriarch sailed for Beilul by way of Diu (where he was joined by Jerónimo Lobo), and arrived at Beilul 2 May 1625.[5] This port on the Red Sea was controlled by the king of the Afars, who was a vassal to the Emperor of Ethiopia; the primary port of entrance to Ethiopia, Massawa, was at the time controlled by the Ottoman Empire, which was hostile to both Ethiopian and European interests. The party crossed the desert into the Ethiopian highlands, and reached Fremona, the base of Catholic missionary efforts, on 21 June 1625 over two years after Mendes had left Lisbon.[6]

At a public ceremony on 11 February 1626, the Emperor Susenyos and Patriarch Mendes publicly acknowledged the primacy of the Roman See and made Catholicism the state religion.[7] A number of local practices were condemned, which included Saturday Sabbath and frequent fasts. For a time, conversions were made, the monarch frequently resorting to compulsion. Richard Pankhurst reports 100,000 inhabitants of Dembiya and Wegera alone are said to have converted to Catholicism.[8] However, strife and rebellions over the enforced changes began within days of the public ceremony, and at one point the Emperor's son, Fasilides, sided with the native church.

After many years of chronic civil war, on 14 June 1632 Emperor Susenyos issued a formal declaration that those who would follow the Catholic faith were allowed to do so, but no one would be forced to do so any further. Patriarch Mendes could only confirm that this was, indeed, the actual will of the Emperor, his protector.[9] Upon succeeding his father, Fasilides first confined the Catholic hierarchy to Fremona, then in 1634 exiled the Patriarch and several of the foreign priests from Ethiopia, who were exposed to robbery, assaults and other indignities by the local population before reaching the Ottoman Naib at Massawa. The Naib sent them to his superior at Suakin, where the Pasha forced the party to pay a ransom before they could proceed to India. Despite settling for a ransom of 4300 patacas (which he borrowed from local Banyan merchants), at the last moment the Pasha insisted on keeping Patriarch Mendes, two priests, three cleric and two of his servants. Amongst those who departed Suakin 26 August was Jerónimo Lobo.[10] These were kept prisoner until Mendes managed to raise 4000 pieces of eight as their ransom, and the Pasha put them on a ship bound for Diu 24 April 1635. They reached Diu a month later, and Mendes immediately continued on Goa, where he unsuccessfully sought military support for his restoration.[11] He appears to have spent the rest of his life in Goa, where he wrote his book on Ethiopian history and geography and the Jesuit mission in Ethiopia, Expeditionis Aethiopicae.[12] His letters and annual reports in Latin appear in other volumes of the series Rerum Aethiopicarum Scriptores Occidentales.[13]


  1. Wallis Budge, A History of Ethiopia: Nubia and Abyssinia, 1928 (Oosterhout: Anthropological Publications, 1970), p. 390
  2. Merid Wolde Aregay, "The Legacy of Jesuit Missionary Activities in Ethiopia," in The Missionary Factor in Ethiopia: Papers from a Symposium on the Impact of European Missions on Ethiopian Society, ed. Getatchew Haile, Samuel Rubenson, and Aasulv Lande (Frankfurt: Verlag, 1998); Hervé Pennec, Des Jésuites Au Royaume Du Prêtre Jean (Éthiopie): Stratégies, Rencontres Et Tentatives D'implantation 1495–1633 (Paris: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2003).
  3. Diccionário ou Noticia Histórica de todas as Cidades, Villas, Lugares (...). Retrieved 1 November 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Baltazar Téllez, The Travels of the Jesuits in Ethiopia, 1710 (LaVergue: Kessinger, 2010), p. 224
  5. Téllez, Travels, p. 226
  6. Mendes' journey from Diu to Fremona is described in Jerónimo Lobo, The Itinerário of Jerónimo Lobo, translated by Donald M. Lockhart (London: Hakluyt Society, 1984), pp. 71–153
  7. Téllez, Travels, p. 233
  8. Pankhurst, The Ethiopians: A History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), p. 107
  9. James Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1805 edition), vol. 3 pp. 403ff
  10. An account of the exile and expulsion of Mendes and the other Jesuits can be found in Lobo, The Itinerário, pp. 251–285
  11. Téllez, Travels, p. 260
  12. Mendes, Alphonso. Expeditionis Aethiopicae. Edited by Camillo Beccari. 15 vols. Vol. 8 & 9, Rerum Aethiopicarum Scriptores Occidentales Inediti a Saeculo Xvi Ad Xix. Rome: Printed for C. de Luigi, 1908.
  13. Beccari, Camillo, ed. Relationes Et Epistolae Variorum. 15 vols. Vol. 10-14, Rerum Aethiopicarum Scriptores Occidentales Inediti a Saeculo Xvi Ad Xix. Rome: C. de Luigi, 1910.