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31 October, 2023 13:00

Dissertation Abate Gobena

Sanctity and Environment in Ethiopian Hagiography: The Case of Gedle Gebre Menfes Qiddus

Dissertation presented at University College Stockholm to be publicly examined in Room 219– 220 at Åkeshovsvägen 29, Bromma, October 31, at
13:00, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (Eastern Christian Studies: Church History). The examination will be held in English.

  • Faculty examiner: Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University
  • Supervisor: Samuel Rubenson, Professor of Eastern Christian Studies, University College Stockholm
  • Assistant supervisor: Thomas Arentzen, Associate Professor of Church History, Uppsala University

The thesis is digitally available at DIVA

The original forests of the central and northern highlands of Ethiopia are almost entirely confined to the “sacred groves” surrounding the churches and monasteries of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. In Ethiopian tradition sanctity starts from the Tabot on the altar of the church and extends to the outer periphery of the compound. Church forests serve as shade and shelter for the sacred, and are seen as integral parts of the churchyard.

The Act of Gebre Menfes Qiddus (GGMQ) is an original Ethiopic hagiographic text. It depicts the life and struggle of the saint in the wilderness of forests and mountains. Hagiographic texts like GGMQ are in Ethiopia not mere historical records, but texts linked to the daily liturgical services that shape and mould the perceptions and actions of their readers and listeners.

The aim of the thesis is to analyse how GGMQ presents the relation between the saint and the natural environment in order to see if there is a correlation with how the Ethiopian tradition has preserved the church forests and has considered these to be sacred spaces representing the wilderness. The aim is achieved through a close reading of the text and its intertexts using four selected themes as analytical instruments: ascetic estrangement, coexistence with non-human creation, identification with the angels and reconciliation of opposites.

The analysis, and the fact that the GGMQ is one of the most venerated texts, read and heard with great liturgical solemnity, show that there are good reasons to believe that the constant reading of GGMQ has made and makes a significant impact upon the readers’ views on the mutual co-habitation of human and non-human creation and the development of an awareness of the need to preserve the wilderness and non-human creation.