Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/320

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.
306
PRESTER jOHN


of the Christians of India the Greater, who defeats the Tatars by an elaborate stratagem, Oppert recognizes jalaluddin of Kharezm and his brief success over the Mongols in Afghanistan. In the Armenian prince Sempad's account (1248), on the other hand, this Christian king of India is aided by the Tatars to defeat and harass the Saracens, and becomes the vassal of the Mongols. In the narrative of /Villiam Rubruquis (1253), though distinct reference is made to the conquering Gur Khan under the name of Coir Cham of Caracatay, the title of “ King John ” is assigned to Kushluk, king of the Naimans, who had married the daughter of the last lineal representative of the gur khans.' And from the remarks which Rubruquis makes in connexion with this King John, on the habit of the Nestorians to spin wonderful stories out of nothing, and of the great tales that went forth about King John, it is evident that the intelligent traveller supposed this king of the Naimans to be the original of the widely spread legend, He mentions, however, a brother of this John called Unc who ruled over the Crit and Merkit (or Kerait and Mekrit, two of the great tribes of Mongolia), whose history he associates with that of jenghiz Khan. Unc Khan reappears in Marco Polo, who tells much about him as “ a great prince, the same that we call Prester John, him in fact about whose great dominion all the world talks.” This Unc was in fact the prince of the Kerait, called by the Chinese Tuli, and by the Persian historians of the Mongols Toghral, on whom the Kin emperor of north China had conferred the title of “ wang ” or king, whence his coming to be known as Awang or Ung Khan. He was long the ally of jenghiz, but a breach occurred between them, and they were mortal enemies till the death of Ung Khan in 1203. In the narrative of Marco Polo “ Unc Can, " alias Prester John, is the liege lord of the Tatars, to whom they paid tribute until jenghiz arose. And this is substantially the story repeated by other European writers of the end of the 13th century, such as Ricold of Montecroce and the sieur de join ville, as well as by one Asiatic, the famous Christian writer, Gregory Abulfaraj. We can find no Oriental corroboration of the claims of Ung Khan to supremacy over the Mongols. But that his power and dignity were considerable appears from the term “ Padshah, ” which is applied to him by the historian Rashiduddin.

We find Prester John in one more phase before he vanishes from Asiatic history, real or mythical. Marco Polo in the latter part of the 13th century, and Friar John of Montecorvino, afterwards archbishop of Cambaluc, in the beginning of the 14th, speak of the descendants of Prester John as holding territory under the great khan in a locality which can be identified with the plain of Kuku-Khotan, north of the great bend of the Yellow river and about 280 m. north-west of Peking. The prince reigning in the time of these two writers was named King George, and was the “ 6th in descent from Prester John, " i.e. no doubt from Awang Khan. Friar Odoric, about 1326, visited the country still ruled by the prince whom he calls Prester John; “ but, ” he says, “ as regards him, not one-hundredth part is true that is told of him.” With this mention Prester John ceases to have any pretension to historical existence in Asia (for we need not turn aside to Mandeville's fabulous revival of old stories or to the barefaced fictions of his contemporary, John of Hese, which bring in the old tales of the miraculous body of St Thomas), and his connexion with that quarter of the world gradually died out of the memory of Europe.” When next we begin to hear his name it is as an African, not as an Asiatic prince; and the personage so styled is in fact the Christian king of Abyssinia. Ludolf has asserted that this application was an invention of the Portuguese and arose only in the 15th century. But this is a mistake; for in fact the application had begun much earlier, and probably long before the name had ceased to be attached by writers on Asia to the descendants of the king of the Kerait. It is true that the Florentine Simone Sigoli, who visited Cairo in 1384, in his Viaggio al Monte Sinai still speaks of “ Presto Giovanni ” as a monarch dwelling in India; but it is the India which is conterminous with the dominions of the soldan of Egypt, and whose lord is master of the Nile, to close or open its discharge upon Egypt. Thirty years earlier (c. 1352) the Franciscan Giovanni de' Marignolli, apostolic legate in Asia, speaks in his Chroniea of Ethiopia where the Negroes are, and which is called the land of Prester John! Going back still further, Friar jordanus 1 It has been pointed out by Alexander Wylie that Kushluk was son of a powerful king of the Naimans, whose name Ta-Yang-Khan is precisely “ Great King John ” as nearly as that could be expressed in Chinese.

2 The stories of Khitai as a Christian empire, which led the jesuits at the court of Akbar to despatch Benedict Goes in search of it (1601), did, however, suggest to Jerome Xavier, their chief, that the country in question “ was the Cathay of Marco Polo, and its Christian king the representative of the famous Prester John "-a jumble of inaccuracy.

3 In a Spanish work of about the same date, by an anonymous Franciscan, we are told that the emperor called “ Abdeselib, which means ' servant of the Cross, ' is a protetor of Preste Juan, who is the patriarch of Nubia and Ethiopia, and is lord of many great lands, and many cities of Christians, though they be black as “ Catalani, ” who returned from the East before 1328, speaks dl the emperor of the Ethiopians “ quem vos vocatis Prestre Johan." But, indeed, we shall have strong probability on our side if we go back much further still, and say that, however vague may have been the ideas of Pope Alexander III. respecting the geographical position of the potentate whom he addressed from Venice in 1177, the only real person to whom the letter can have been sent was the king of Abyssinia. Let it be observed that the “ honourable persons of the monarch's kingdom ” whom the leech Phili had met with in the East must have been the representatives ofp some real power, and not of a phantom. It must have been a real king who professed to desire reconciliation with the Catholic Church and the assignation of a church at Rome and of an altar at Jerusalem. Moreover, we know that the Ethiopic Church did long possess a chapel and altar in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and, though we have been unable to find travellers' testimony to this older than about 1497, it is quite possible that the appropriation may have originated much earlier.'* We know from Marco Polo that about a century after the date of Pope Alexander's epistle a mission was sent by the king of Abyssinia to Jerusalem to make offerings on his part at the Church of the Sepulchre. It must be remembered that at the time of the pope's letter Jerusalem, which had been taken from the Moslem in 1099, was still in Christian possession. Abyssinia had been going through a long period of vicissitude and distraction. In the 10th century the royal line had been superseded by a dynasty of Falasha Jews, followed by other Christian families; but weakness and disorder continued till the restoration of the “ House of Solomon " (c. 1268). Nothing is more likely than that the princes of the “ Christian families ” who had got possession of the throne of northern Abyssinia should have wished to strengthen themselves by a connexion with European Christendom, and to establish relations with Jerusalem, then in Christian hands. We do not know whether the leech Philip ever reached his destination, or whether a reply ever came back to the Lateran.5 Baronius, who takes the View for which we have been arguing, supposes it possible that the church in Rome possessed in his own time by the Abyssinians (St Stephen's in the Vatican) might have been granted on this occasion. But we may be sure that this was a modern concession during the attempts to master the Ethiopian Church early in the 16th century. Ludolf intimates that its occupancy had been taken from them in his own time after it had been held “ for more than a century.”

In the legendary history of the Translation of the three Blessed Kings by John of Hildesheim (c. 1370), of which an account and extracts are given bg Zarncke (Abhandl. ii. 154 seq.), we have an evident fumble in the writer's mind between the Asiatic and the African ocation of Prester John; among other matters it is stated that Prester John and the Nubians dug a chapel out of the rock under Calvary in honour of the three kings: “et vocatur illa capella in partibus illis capella Nubiyanorum ad reges in praesentem diem, sed Sarracini . ob invidiam obstruxerunt ” (p. 158). From the 14th century onwards Prester John had found his seat in Abyssinia. It is there that Fra Mauro's great map (1459) presents a fine city with the'rubric, “ Qui il Preste janni fa residential principal.” 'When, nearer the end of the century (1481-1495), King pitch, and brand themselves with the sign of the cross in token of their baptism ” (Libro del conocimiento de todos reynos, &'c., printed at Madrid, 1877).

4 Indeed, we can carry the date back half a century further by the evidence of a letter translated in Ludolf (Comment. p. 303). This is addressed from Shoa by the king Zara Jacob in the eighth year of at Jerusalem.

his reign (1442) to the Abyssinian monks, dwellers The king desires them to light certain lamps in the Church of the Pilgerfahrt des

Sepulchre, including “ three in our chapel." In the Ritters Arnold 'von Harjf (1496-1499: Cologne, 1860, p. 175), we find it stated that the Abyssinians had their chapel, &c., to the left of the Holy Sepulchre, between two pillars of the Temple, whilst the Armenian chapel was over theirs, reached by a stone staircase alongside of the Indians (or Abyssinians). This exactly corresponds with the plan and reference given in Sandys's Travels (1615), p. 162, which show the different chapels. The first on the south, i.e. the left looking from the bod of the church, is “ No. 35.-The chappell of the Abisines, over which the chappell of the Armenians.” A reference to Jerusalem, which we procured through the kindness of Mr Walter Besant, shows that the Abyssinians no longer have a chapel or privileges in the Church of the Sepulchre. Between the Armenians and the Copts they have been deprived of these, and even of the keys of their convent. The resentment of King Theodore at the loss of these privileges was one of the indirect causes which led to the war between him and England in 1867-68. 5 Matthew Paris gives a letter from Philip, prior of the Dominicans in Palestine, which reached the pope in 1237, and which speaks of a prelate from whom he had received several letters, “qui praeest omnibus quos Nestoriana haeresis ab ecclesia separavit (cujus praelatio per Indiam Majorem, et per regnum sacerdotis johannis, et per regna magis proxima Orienti dilatatur).” We have little doubt that Abyssinia was the “ regnum ” here indicated, though it was a mistake to identify the Abyssinian Church with the Nestorians.