Abba Gabra Mikael (1791-August 28, 1855), a 19th-century Ethiopian ecclesiastic and scholar, became a convert to Catholicism, and was put to death for his faith by Prince Kassa, later Emperor Téwodros (q.v.) [reigned 1855-68].
Gabra Mikael was born at Dibo in Gojam in 1791. He was educated at the monasteries of Dibo and Martula Maryam, and became a monk (Abba). After 15 years of study, he was crowned as Liq, or distinguished scholar. He left Gojam in 1825 for Gondar, where he lived until 1838, after which he went to Tegré, where he stayed until 1840
Abba Mikael’s ambition was to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This he did in 1841, when he was made a member of the Ethiopian delegation which Prince Webé (q.v.) sent under the leadership of Abba Habta Selassé to bring an Abun (head of the Ethiopian Church) from Egypt. The delegation was accompanied by Monsignor Giustino de Jacobis, bishop of the Lazarist Catholic Mission of Northern Ethiopia, who was charged with carrying goodwill messages to the Pope in Rome, and to act as a guide to the Ethiopians on their travels.
The delegation visited Egypt, Jerusalem, and Rome. It is probable that Abba Mikael was already a converted Catholic when he returned from Rome. This conversion, however, was made official only in February 1844. From 1844 to 1847 he headed the Lazarist Misison Station at Guala in Tegré. He left for Gondar in 1847, and returned to Tegré in 1849. But because of the persecution of Catholics in Tegré, he had to return to Gondar again in 1851. The persecution, however, extended to Gondar and, on the orders of Abuna Salama (q.v.), Mikael was arrested on July 15, 1854. He was brought before the court of Prince Kassa, later to become Emperor Téwodros, to stand trial for having converted to Catholicism. He maintained his stand as a converted Catholic, and even refused to accept the authority of Prince Kassa. The prince, angered by his effrontery, condemned him to death on May 31, 1855, and he was executed on August 28. He was regarded as a martyr of the Catholic faith.
J. B. Coulbeaux, Le Bienheureux Abba Ghébre Michael (“The Blessed Gabra Mikael”), Paris, 1926; M. Devin, L’Abyssinie et son apôtre (“Abyssinia and its Apostle”), Paris, 1866; W.C. Plowden, Travels in Abyssinia, London, 1868.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana, ©1997 by L. H. Ofosu-Appiah, editor-in-chief, Reference Publications Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.