The Zagwe Dynasty was established by King Mera Teklehaymanot after he has chased his father in-law up to the region of Shoa Plateau. It was also the wish of his wife Queen Mesobework who had encouraged her husband, King Mera Teklehaimanot to chase her father and establish their own new dynasty known as Ze-Zagwe Dynasty. Ze-Zagwe means in Ethiopia’s Geez Language as –The Chasers’ so in general “The Zagwe Dynasty” means “The Dynasty of the Chasers”.
There were 11 kings of the Zagwe Dynasty who had ruled the dynasty for 333 years up to 1268. Amongst the 11 Zagwe Daynasty Kings, four kings whose names are- King Yimrehane Kristos, King Guebremariam, King Lalibela and King Nakutolaab are the most notable kings in the period of the Zagwe Dynasty whose works are noted and each of them had ruled the dynasty for 40 years consecutively..
King Yimrehane Kristos had a great contribution for having made a great relationship with the Muslim and Christian world, he had travelled on the ocean as far as India to visit fellow Christians living in that far land and the Indian Orthodox Church is one of the five oriental churches in which Ethiopia is part of this churches’ group. King Yimrehane Kristos is known for having built the most famous monastery named after his name located only 42km north of Lalibela Town and this monastery has welcomed thousands of pilgrims that flee from the crusade in the Middle East and became refuge for them and the king welcomed them then allowed them to stay as long as they want and those who lived all their life in this monastery and who died there are mummified and mummies can still be seen at the cave behind the main church building.
King Guebremariam was known for his concern on peace and stability in his empire and wanted to establish a Royal Court at his political centre Roha and he also wanted Ethiopians to be canonized as Bishops by the Coptic Church of Alexandria but he was unsuccessful because the Church of Alexandria didn’t accept it because they don’t want to miss the fortune they get from the Ethiopian Christian Empire as a tribute for having sent their own bishops to Ethiopia.
King Lalibela is the most famous of the Zagwe Dynasty Period Kings. King Lalibela’s time of ruling the Zagwe Dynasty coincided with the time of the Crusade and the King’s decision not to have participated in the Crusade had given him the opportunity to have his Christian Empire have a great respect from the Muslim world who had controlled the Holy land at the time and they decided to give this Christian King with official letter sent to him to grant him a piece of land for a place to stay for his pilgrims going from his empire to the holy land in which this piece of land is still under the administration of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
His contribution to the spread of Christianity throughout his empire is unparalleled in comparison to any one of the Zagwe Kings. He has not only spread Christianity teachings throughout his empire and neighboring empires but he has also alleviated the suffering and death of Christians who make pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Jerusalem) by having established the New Jerusalem at his political centre Roha by having carved the extraordinary rock carvings of monolith rock hewn churches in man’s history at the now a day’s Lalibela town in which its former name Roha was changed to Lalibela because he is beloved king of all time through the period of the Zagwe Dynasty.
King Nakutolaab is also a pious king whose wisdom relates to the biblical father Elijah who had prayed in a cave where he has seen miraculously revealed wisdom from the almighty. This king is believed not to have died but lives in spirit and we locally call him “Seweru Nakutolaab ( Sewuru means- one who lives in Spirit)” and he is canonized by the Ethiopian Church as one of the Ethiopian Saints like those of King Yimrehane Kristos, King Guebremariam and King Lalibela.
THE FABULOUS KINGDOM OF THE LAND OF PRESTER JOHN
In the middle ages (medieval period), Ethiopia was virtually the only important Christian country outside Europe, and as such became a source of considerable interest to medieval Christendom. Since the early 12th Century, we Ethiopians had been in possession of a monastery in Jerusalem and a station in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The legend of Prester John had been circulating in the West since 1077. The legend told about a powerful Christian monarch in some unknown country in the East whose overriding ambition was to liberate the Holy Sepulcher from the infidels. Support for the belief in this monarch was reinforced by a number of fictitious letters that circulated at the time, one of which dated 1077 but the others were undated and with out any indication of their origin and they were addressed to many European personalities, among them the Roman Emperor Manuel I and Pope Alexander III and Eugenius IV.