Paez, Pedro

Catholic Church (Jesuit)

Pedro Paez was a Spanish missionary to Ethiopia. Born in Olmedo, Spain, Paez entered the Society of Jesus in 1582 and embarked for Goa (India) in 1588. The following year, enroute to Ethiopia, he was captured by Turkish pirates and enslaved until 1596. Upon his release he returned temporarily to Goa but arrived in Massawa, Ethiopia, in March, 1603, in the guise of an Armenian merchant with the alias “Abedula.” He soon mastered Amharic and Ge’ez, translated a catechism, produced a comprehensive report on the theological errors of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and wrote a history of the country. Until his death in 1622, Paez, exemplary in his sensitive dealings with suspicious Ethiopian Orthodox clergy, focused his energies on court officials, nobles, and royalty. He achieved the conversion of the formerly Monophysite Emperor Susenyos (Malak Sagad III), who, despite strong resistance from indigenous ecclesiastics, summarily declared Ethiopian allegiance to Rome and abolished the slave trade. When Paez died (probably of malaria), he left behind a Roman Catholic Church that wielded great influence with the nobility. But the appointment to the Ethiopian patriarchate of the tactless and heavy-handed Alfonso Mendes plunged the country into bloody civil war and resulted not only in the destruction of all that Paez had accomplished but in a two-century ban on Roman Catholic priests.

Jonathan J. Bonk


C. F. Beckingham and G. W. B. Huntingford, Some Records of Ethiopia 1593-1646 (1954); Philip Caraman, The Lost Empire: The Story of the Jesuits in Ethiopia 1555-1634 (1985); C. Wessels, “Pedro Paez, 1622-1922,” Studies 92 (1922): 1-20.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.