Gabriel II was a Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria who is revered as a saint by the Ethiopian Church. According to the Ethiopian Synaxarium this ecclesiastic, who held office from 1131 to 1145, received a request by an unspecified Emperor of Ethiopia to permit the ordination of more bishops in Ethiopia. He is said to have at first agreed that the Abunä Mika’él should be allowed to do this, but, the Synaxarium declares, was later warned by the ruler of Egypt that this would cause the Ethiopians to “wax bold” and become independent of the Coptic Church. He therefore rejected the Ethiopian proposal and a letter which he sent to that effect is said to have been followed by famine, drought and pestilence in Ethiopia, only alleviated after the Emperor had sent a letter seeking reconciliation.
The story seems to have undergone some alteration in the Ethiopic translation, for in the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria the role of the Patriarch is reversed and it is he who is said to have to have convinced the caliph that it would be unwise to grant the Ethiopian request to appoint more than the prescribed number of seven bishops in Ethiopia, since if the number reached ten the Ethiopians would be empowered to appoint their own metropolitan and claim autonomy.
Richard K. P. Pankhurst
E. Renaudot, Historia Patriarcharum Alexandrinorum (Paris, 1717), 510-11, 525-6.
E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church (Cambridge, 1928), Vol. III, 800-1.
Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia 1270-1527 (Oxford, 1972), 42, 56.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from The Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography, Vol. 1 ‘From Early Times to the End of the Zagwé Dynasty c. 1270 A.D.,’ copyright © 1975, edited by Belaynesh Michael, S. Chojnacki and Richard Pankhurst, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All rights reserved.