The Ethiopian Mediterranean The Mediterranean Holy Places and the Invention of Pilgrimage in Ethiopian Medieval Culture (15th -16th centuries)
Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Grenoble Alpes, Olivia Adankpo-Labadie is member of the Laboratoire Universitaire Histoire Cultures Italie Europe (LUHCIE). Her research focuses on the history of Medieval Ethiopia (13th-16th century) and on the contacts between East Africa and the Mediterranean worlds during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. The book resulting from her doctoral thesis, on the origins of a heterodox monastic community in Ethiopia in the 14th and 15th centuries, is forthcoming: Moines, saints et hérétiques. Les disciples d’Ēwosṭātēwos et l’invention d’un mouvement monastique hétérodoxe en Éthiopie (début du XIVe - milieu du XVe siècle), Rome, 2023. Since September 2020, she supervises the ETHIOKONGMED project which intends to study the diplomatic, religious and cultural relations between the Christian kingdoms of Ethiopia and Kongo and the Mediterranean Catholic powers from the 15th to the 17th century, according to a multidisciplinary and comparative approach.
Since late antiquity, Ethiopia has had periodic relations with the Mediterranean world and the Near East. From the 14th century onwards, pilgrims from Ethiopia are clearly attested in Egypt, Palestine and Cyprus, and from the 15th century in Venice and Rome. These travellers were mostly monks trained in the ascetic life in the convents of the Abyssinian highlands. Outside Ethiopia, these pilgrims lived in hospices. How do Ethiopians perceive the holy places of Egypt, Palestine and Europe? What makes a “holy place” according to them? Why Ethiopian monks and laymen decided to visit these pilgrimage sites far away from the Abyssinian highlands? This I Tatti project aims at answering these questions by analysing both written documentation, written in Ethiopic, Arabic, Italian or Latin, and iconographic material preserved in Roman and Florentine libraries. This project will investigate the origins of long-distance pilgrimage in Ethiopian culture by studying the representations of Egyptian, Palestinian and European holy places and the processes of sacralization in hagiographic accounts and itineraries. Olivia Adankpo-Labadie will also understand how Ethiopian pilgrims embraced these different places and the saints attached to them by inventing new Ethiopian holy places in the Mediterranean world.