Excerpt from Paulos Milkias, Ethiopia (p44)

The man known in Ethiopia as Yimrahanna Kristos was referred to in Europe during the time of the Crusades as “Prester John” (Latin: Prete Anie). Yimrahanna Kristos was the fi rst of the four emperor-saints of the Zagwe dynasty, and he ruled Ethiopia for 40 years. The emperor was devoted to the church, and besides, his imperial duties, he used to serve as a priest. He was the only Ethiopian emperor who was priest-king. His fi rst appearance in historical documents was in the Chronicle of Otto Freising, who had heard word of a powerful Christian sovereign reigning in the East in 1145 from a Syrian bishop who had arrived at the Papal Court in Viterbo. During the Fifth Crusade, which took place at the beginning of the 13th century, information about Ethiopia trickled to Europe. The European report suggested that Prester John was a devoted priest as well as a great monarch. European writers soon started to depict Prester John as a great monarch who resided in a grand palace, carried an emerald scepter, was attended by hundreds of princes, and had an archbishop as a butler and a king as a chief cook. Others gave their imaginations free rein. Prester John, they wrote, had a magic mirror through which he could glance at every corner of his vast empire; his robes, washed only in fi re, were woven by salamanders. Ludivico Ariosto, the famous early Renaissance poet, was inspired by these fantasies to describe the land of Preteianni (Prester John) as a place where one could fi nd golden-chained drawbridges with solid crystal columns; musk, balsam, and umber in every corner; and a palace whose walls and ceilings were studded with pearls and whose rooms differed from each other in that the fl oors of some were made of rubies whereas others were covered with topazes and sapphires.

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