Abuna Matewos (circa 1842 to December 4, 1926) was the Metropolitan of Ethiopia (head of the Ethiopian Church), and an influential councillor of Emperor Menilek II (q.v.) [reigned 1889-1913].
He was an Egyptian by birth, and received his ecclesiastical education and was ordained as a monk at one of the monasteries founded in Egypt by St. Pachomius (4th century). He and two other bishops accompanied Archbishop Petros to Ethiopia in 1881, at the request of Yohannes IV (q.v.), who reigned from 1872-89. Yohannes assigned Matewos to Menilek, then king of Shawa, and retained the services of the Archbishop for himself.
When Yohannes IV died in 1889, Abuna Matewos anointed Menilek as emperor of Ethiopia, and urged the people to rally behind him, threatening to excommunicate from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church all those who would secede. He also celebrated the marriage of Menilek and his consort Taytu Betul (q.v.) in 1883. A conflict developed, however, with Archbishop Petros, who had served under Yohannes IV, and who maintained before Menilek that he was still archbishop of Ethiopia. The emperor settled the question by dividing the empire into two archdioceses, over each of which a separate spiritual head would have jurisdiction. Eventually, after correspondence with Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, he appointed Abuna Matewos as sole archbishop.
Abuna Matewos accompanied the emperor on all his journeys and campaigns, including the campaign against the Italians which culminated in the Ethiopian victory at Adwa in 1896. He also acted as his adviser on international affairs. In 1902 Matewos visited Russia on a politico-religious mission, and was decorated by the Tsar. When, in 1907, Menilek introduced his ministerial reforms, Matewos became Minister of Education for three years on the grounds that education was inseparable from religion. In 1910-17, during Menilek’s illness and after, Matewos was involved in domestic politics. In 1909, the emperor had proclaimed his grandson, Lej Iyasu Mikael (q.v.), who was a minor, as his heir presumptive. Abuna Matewos confirmed the decree by uttering words of excommunication and curses on all those who would disobey it. When he emperor became paralyzed in 1910, a regent was appointed to run affairs of the state. The Empress Taytu Betul, wife of Menilek, nevertheless persisted in wielding power. The bishop, however, collaborated with the nobles in removing the empress from the political arena by joining the threat of excommunication to the threat of force. he also continued to act as a mediator between the prince and some of the dissatisfied chiefs. But he finally sided with the chiefs and released them from their oath of office to the heir presumptive, who was subsequently deposed in 1916. Early the following year Abuna Matewos anointed Menilek’s daughter Zawditu (q.v.), as empress.
Abuna Matewos’ popularity and influence began to wane as he grew older and became involved in trifling political matters. He was criticized for his obstinacy and his anti-Western attitude in cultural affairs. After 1922, he fell ill, and on the recommendations of his doctors lived in Egypt, Jibuti, and Dire Dawa until his death in December, 1926.
Guèbre Sellassié, Chronique du règne de Ménélik II (“Chronicle of the Reign of Menilek II”), 2 vols, Paris, 1930-1931; Heruy Walda Selasse, Yaheywat Tarik (“Information For the Generations to Come”), Addis Ababa, 1922/23; Mahtama Selassé Walda Masqal, Zikra Nagar (“Memories”), Addis Ababa, 1942; P. Mérab, Impressions d’Ethiopie (“Impressions of Ethiopia”), Paris 1921-29.
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.