1: This is a thread on Ṣägga Krǝstos, aka Zaga Christ, based on my article:

“I Was Not Born to Obey, but Rather to Command”: The Self-Fashioning of Ṣägga Krǝstos, an Ethiopian Traveler in Seventeenth-Century Europe.

J. of Early Modern History (2021)
doi.org/10.1163/157006… Portrait of Zaga Christ by Giovanna Garzoni (1635) (credit:
2: In 1632 Cairo, an Ethiopian traveler named Ṣägga Krǝstos introduced himself to a Franciscan missionary, claiming to be the legitimate heir to the Ethiopian throne. In Ethiopia, the Jesuits had been faltering, and the Franciscan saw potential.
3: The friar hoped Ṣägga Krǝstos would convert and support a Franciscan mission in Ethiopia. He advised him to travel to Rome, but Ṣägga Krǝstos headed to Jerusalem. He stayed at Dayr as-Sulṭān, on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, before heading to Nazareth.
4: In Nazareth, Ṣägga Krǝstos converted to Catholicism on 29 June 1632. He also befriended the French pilgrim Eugene Roger, who would include him in La Terre Saincte (1646). doi.org/10.1163/157006…
5: In fall 1632, Ṣägga Krǝstos traveled to Haifa and sailed to Italy: on his way to Rome, he was hosted as a personality throughout the Kingdom of Naples.
6: In Rome, he enjoyed the support of Propaganda Fide (a sort of ministry of missions), the Barberini and the Borghese. He stayed in Trastevere, mostly at the Franciscan convent of San Pietro in Montorio, which hosted Maronite pilgrims and an Arabic school. San Pietro in Montorio
7: While being vetted, Ṣägga Krǝstos, produced his autobiographical statement, of which many copies survive (more on it in my next article). In the end, his hosts could not make up their mind and opted to support him without endorsing his claim. One of the versions of the statement
8: Ṣägga Krǝstos left Rome with four Franciscans. They headed to Venice, where they were supposed to embark for Ethiopia. Ṣägga Krǝstos told his story to a local historian Maiolino Bisaccioni, who included it in his volume on the Thirty Years’ War:
9: Plans changed and Ṣägga Krǝstos and his companions crossed the Po Valley, hosted by multiple noble houses: the Gonzaga in Mantua, the Farnese in Parma, and the Savoy in Turin. One of many chronicles mentioning Ṣägga Krǝstos / Zaga C
10: On 1 April 1635, Ṣägga Krǝstos was confirmed in Turin’s Cathedral. The Duke Victor Emanuel of Savoy, whose descendant would briefly usurp the title of Emperor of Ethiopia (1936-43), was his godfather.
11: In May 1635, Ṣägga Krǝstos left for Paris, but not before posing for Giovanna Garzoni
@philipmould @guardian @emmarutherford1
12: In Paris, Ṣägga Krǝstos printed his autobiography to impress King Louis XIII and became Zaga Christ. Albeit largely fantastic, the volume is the first African autobiography printed in Europe. It includes a glorious coat of arms, part of Ṣägga Krǝstos’s self-fashioning act.
13: Ṣägga Krǝstos’s bid paid off: he received substantial financial support from the French monarchy and opted to remain in Paris while his Franciscan companions left for Ethiopia. Among his acquaintances was the philosopher Tommaso Campanella, who was very impressed with him.
14: On 16 November 1637, Ṣägga Krǝstos was arrested in Paris’s outskirts, with a married woman— Magdalene Alamant Saulnier—possibly accused of poisoning his lover’s husband. He was jailed and interrogated at the Grand Chatelet.
15: SK was found in possession of a “promise of marriage” in which the two lovers vowed their reciprocal commitment, and love letters from a Roman nun residing at San Cosimato, a convent nearby San Pietro in Montorio. In the “promise”, SK swore he no longer loved the nun. Convent of San Cosimato in Trastevere
16: Ṣägga Krǝstos defiantly refused to acknowledge the authority of his captors and did not answer their questions. He explained he “was not born to obey, but rather to command”
17: Ṣägga Krǝstos was released and died on 22 April 1638, at Cardinal Richelieu’s mansion in Ruel. He was buried in the town’s church. His remains seem to have been removed during the Napoleonic era. Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul in Rueil-Malmaison
18: Ṣägga Krǝstos was not Emperor Yaʿǝqob’s son (he had been born in 1616 and Yaʿǝqob had died in 1607) and had no credentials to show. Yet, throughout his journey, most of his hosts and acquaintances held him in high regard, commended his intellect, faith, and aspect:
19: Only posthumously, he became a subject of ridicule: French commentators turned him into a hypersexualized African. References to a lustful “Ethiopian Prince” found their way in French plays.
20: In 1985, Ṣägga Krǝstos ended up on the cover of Blank Darkness where he is characterized as a “creature of French discourse” and “a mythical foreigner”. To the contrary, Ṣägga Krǝstos was very real and his European interlocutors took him seriously.
21: Ṣägga Krǝstos’s is a unique story of African agency, survival, and self-fashioning. It offers vistas on the African presence in early modern Europe and the interplay between color, status, and faith.
Thank you for reading and retweeting.

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