VITELLESCHI, Mutio, trans.
JESUIT LETTERS FROM ETHIOPIA, CHINA AND VIETNAM
Lettere dell’Ethiopia Dell’Anno 1626 fino al Marzo del 1627. E della Cina Sell’Anno 1625 fino al Febraro del 1626.Rome, Erede di B. Zannetti, 1629
FIRST EDITION. 8vo. pp. 133, , lacking last blank. Roman letter. Woodcut printer’s device to title, decorated initials and ornaments. Some yellowing, intermittent small worm holes or trail to lower gutter, touching few words in places. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum, B. Juel-Jensen’s bookplate in Ethiopian and early ms casemark ‘I.C.T.h.O.43’ to front pastedown.
A good copy the scarce first edition of three most interesting accounts of Jesuit missions in Ethiopia, China and Vietnam – with the first description in print of Tonkin, two further editions appeared in Milan and Parma the same year. These texts have survived only in their Italian translations (Backer-Sommervogel), made by Mutio Vitelleschi, (1563-1645), Sixth Superior General of the Society of Jesus, and professor of theology and philosophy at the Roman College. Dated Gongorà 1627, Pedro de Almeida’s ‘lettera annua’ discusses the state of the Catholic faith in 1626-7 in Ethiopia, a country ruled by a Christian emperor and the seat of several monasteries. Among the facts recounted are the Abissinians’ return to their ‘Alexandrine Masses’ in Ethiopian despite Jesuit preaching; the building of a church in Gorgorà; how Father Fernandez, in Anfràs, translated the Catholic ritual and wrote a manual for confessors in Ethiopian; meetings with Ras Zelachristo (the emperor’s brother); rituals of Abissinian monks invoking demons, and many other missionary encounters providing a priceless portrayal of early C17 Ethiopian culture in the main cities and provinces. Dated 1626, the letter of Emmanuel Diaz opens with the three new Chinese missions established that year, proceeding to a section on temporal authority in China (with a mention of the emperor’s chief eunuch), and specific accounts concerning Beijing and other cities, including miracles such as the healing of a young Christian girl. Dated 1626, the last account was written by Father Baldinotti, the first missionary to visit Tonkin. It tells of his arrival aboard a Portuguese merchant ship, with the Japanese Jesuit Giulio Piani, so that Baldinotti ‘could act as confessor and witness the state of the faith in that kingdom and whether it was ready to receive God’s word’. Welcomed by the king, they attended several of his feasts, with elephant tournaments and horse races; the mission was difficult to establish, because of a ‘Moor’, a spy, who showed the Christians in a bad light. The king asked Baldinotti to teach his eunuch ‘the things of the sky’, i.e., astronomy, because he was known to be a fine mathematician. A fine collection of ground-breaking accounts of early C17 Africa and Asia.Only Boston College copy recorded in the US. USTC 4002143; Cordier I, 318-9; Backer-Sommervogel I, 193:2.