Samuel Gobat as Bishop of Jerusalem

Samuel Gobat was born on January 26, 1799, at Cremine, Bern, Switzerland.

After theological training in Basel, Switzerland, his first Christian ministry was in a mission house in that city, from 1823-26. He then went to Paris and London, mastered Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages (including Ethiopian), and was sent by the Church Missionary Society (Church of England) to pioneer missionary work in Abyssinia (Ethiopia).

“The account of his voyages down and across the Red Sea (in 1830) in open Arab vessels crowded with pilgrims, with only polluted water to drink, and sometimes none at all, and he himself suffering from ophthalmia and dysentery … is painful reading.”

But after two unfruitful years in that difficult field, he and his companions were expelled by the authorities … because “of the intrigue of French (Roman Catholic) priests.”

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When he returned home he found that the daughter of one of his teachers, whom he had known for many years, had blossomed into a lovely young lady. He married Mary Zeller on May 23, 1834 and two weeks later took her off to Ethiopia.

By the time they reached Arabia Samuel became desperately ill with cholera, which Marie also caught after nursing him. For the following 2 years their lives were desperately difficult, with ongoing illness that finally forced them to return to Europe. However, while crossing Egypt they suffered thirst and hunger and the disinterest of the locals. Their first child died just hours short of medical help in Cairo.

This was not the end of their troubles, as more children died in the ensuing years and Samuel took up poorly paid Bible translation work in Malta, translating the Scriptures into Arabic. However his health gradually improved and he worked as assistant principal in a school.

On July 5, 1846, the Gobats’ lives changed course when Samuel was consecrated as the second Bishop of Jerusalem. The new posting led to many challenges, but it became a life calling for the dedicated couple.

The official history of the Church Missionary Society, titled One Hundred Years, records how Bishop Gobat and the CMS were vigorously assailed at this time by High Churchmen for presuming to preach Christ to Orientals …”

Despite opposition, Gobat gave an evangelical lead to the Church of England in the Holy Land, establishing 37 schools, 12 churches and several hospitals.

When the Druse massacred hundreds of Christians in Lebanon and Damascus the Gobats faced the real possibility of martyrdom. They also faced harsh rebuke for welcoming converts from the Orthodox faith into their Protestant congregations. Samuel explained that these people had been rejected by their church because they sought to study the Bible.

“He carried on a vigorous mission as bishop for over thirty years, his diocesan school and orphanage on Mount Zion being specially noteworthy.”

The bond between the couple became legendary and Samuel was known for his affection and care toward Marie.

Samuel died in Jerusalem on May 11, 1879 at the age of 80, and Marie seemed to lose interest in life after his passing. She died less than three months later.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at:

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