THE INDIGENOUS & THE FOREIGN
Jesuit Presence in 17th Century Ethiopia
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Within the hilltop compound of the Märtula Maryam Monastery, in the Gojami district of Mota, stand the tall ruins of the ancient rectangular church dating from the time of King Susneyos. The three-nave building was started by the Jesuit missionary Bruno Bruni and Brother Juan Martinez (the architect of the Jesuits) in 1628, on the site (and most probably using the materials) of an older church built by order of Queen Eleni in the late 15th or early 16th century and subsequently destroyed by the Muslim armies of Ahmad Graññ and by Oromo raiding activities.
Susneyos allocated the badly damaged Märtula Maryam compound to the Jesuits, on condition that they would restore it. The new church was not yet finished when the missionaries were expelled from the country in 1633. Its remaining walls (more than 10†m high) and elaborate stone decorations testify to the importance and originality of the church: the delicately chiselled flower decoration of the main arches is indicative of the probable presence of Gujarati masons in the Abyssinian court and of the influence of so-called Indo-Portuguese decorative art. The bas-reliefs and other stone decoration in the altar area and around the windows and chapel doors are of Western Catholic origin, as are the anthropomorphic corbel figures.