Blessed Earth Strong to Empress Menen Asfaw, the Empress Consort of the Ethiopian Empire and wife of Tafari Makonnen, later Emperor Haile Selassie.
She was born in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia as the daughter of Asfaw, Jantirar of Ambassel (head of the mountain fortress of Ambassel) and Woizero (Dame) Sehin Michael. Her mother was the daughter of Negus (King) Mikael of Wollo and her uncle was Emperor Iyasu V (Lij Iyasu).
On August 3, 1911 Menen and Tafari were married. She was described as “a woman without any malice whatsoever”. When Tafari became Emperor of Ethiopia as Haile Selassie I, she was crowned as Empress at his side.
Empress Menen was active in promoting women’s issues in Ethiopia, was Patroness of the Ethiopian Red Cross, and the Ethiopian Women’s Charitable Organization. She was also patroness of the Jerusalem Society that arranged for pilgrimages to the Hole Land. She founded the Empress Menen School for Girls in Addis Ababa, the first all-girls school which had both boarding and day students. Girls from all over the Empire were brought to the school to receive a modern education, encouraged by the Empress who visited it often and presided over its graduation ceremonies. The Empress gave generously, as well as sponsored programs for the poor, ill and disabled.
She was also a devoutly religious woman who did much to support the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. She built, renovated and endowed numerous churches in Ethiopia and in the Holy Land.
When the Empress was exiled from Ethiopia during the Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941, she made a pledge to the Virgin Mary at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, promising to give her crown to the church if Ethiopia were liberated from occupation. The Empress made numerous pilgrimages to Holy Sites in then British-ruled Palestine, in Syria and in Lebanon, during her exile to pray for her occupied homeland. Following the return of Emperor Haile Selassie I and his family to Ethiopia in 1941, a replica of the crown was made for future Empresses, but the original crown that Empress Menen was crowned with at her husband’s side in 1930 was sent to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem Empress Menen, although often seen wearing a tiara at public events that called for it, would never again wear a full crown.
Empress Menen performed perfectly in the role of Empress-consort. In her public role she combined religious piety, concern for social causes, and support for development schemes with the majesty of her Imperial status. Outwardly she was the dutiful wife, visiting schools, churches, exhibitions and model farms, attending public and state events at her husband’s side or by herself. She took no public stand on political or policy issues. Behind the scenes however, she was the Emperor’s most trusted advisor, quietly offering advice on a whole range of issues.
Following her death in 1962, the Empress was buried in the crypt of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa among the tombs of her children. The Prime Minister delivered her eulogy paying tribute to her charity, her piety, and her role as advisor and helpmate to the Emperor, as well as her personal kindness and goodness. On the third day memorial and commemoration after the funeral, the Emperor himself paid tribute to his wife by saying that although the Prime Minister had aptly described what kind of person his late wife had been, he wanted to say that during their five decades of marriage, not once had it been necessary to have a third party mediate between him and his wife, and that their marriage had been one of peace and mutual support.
Later, the Emperor built a pair of grand sarcophagi in the north transept of Holy Trinity Cathedral’s nave, in order to transfer his wife’s remains there and eventually be buried at her side himself. But due to the revolution, the Emperor was not buried there after his death, and the Empress remained in her original tomb in the crypt. During the ceremonial burial of her husband’s remains in November 2000, the remains of Empress Menen were also disinterred from the crypt tomb, and placed in the sarcophagus next to her husband in the nave of the Cathedral, as he had originally intended.
Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa
Empress Menen and Emperor Haile Selassie I’s thrones in the Holy Trinity Cathedral
Empress Menen’s tomb
Emperor Haile Selassie-I’s tomb