Debre Damo Monastery

Debre Damo

Debre Damo Monastery

Debre DamoDebre Damo monastery is located on an isolated amba (a mountain with flat top) in northern Tigray. Debre Damo was built in the sixth century, with carved wood panels, painted ceilings and walls dedicated to the legend of Saint Abuna Aregawi. The history of Debre Damo is centered on the Nine Saints, who came to Ethiopia from Syria at the end of fifth century. One of them was Saint Aregawi who settled on the mountain of Debre Damo.

Debre Damo is magnificent in terms of its location and extensive collection of priceless manuscripts that have remained intact until today. It has become a prominent monastic and educational centre for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Many books have been written there and distributed to churches throughout Ethiopia.

Debre Damo is only accessible by climbing up by a rope, which is made of plaited leather and lowered from the cliffs. Visitors tie one rope around their waist use the second rope to climb up the cliff. It is only accessible to men. Women and even female animals are forbidden to set a foot into the monastery.

The feast of Saint (Abune) Aregawi is celebrated on October 14 Ethiopian calendar (October 24 or 25 in Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Debre Damo from all over the country.

Abuna Aregawi is a sixth century Syrian monk who founded the monastery was commissioned by Emperor Gebre Meskel of Axum. He was one of the Nine Saints who came to Ethiopia after the year 451. The Nine Saints were learned monks who revitalized Christianity in Ethiopia and to whom the Ge’ez version of the New Testament is attributed.

Abuna Aregawi, founder of Debre Damo monasteryMost information about Abuna Aregawi consists of legends. One of the legends says that Abuna Aredawi spent twelve years as an advisor at the court of King Ella Amida of Axum, and then greatest Axumite king Kaleb.

According to another legend, God provided a large snake for him to aid him in climbing the amba, or steep-sided mountain, so he could build Debre Damo. When Abba Aragawi, the founder of the monastery, came to the foot of the cliff a great serpent appeared. As St. Michael stood by to give directions, the serpent folded Abba Aregawi in his coils and drew him to the top of the mountain.

Do you believe this legend? No? Then travel to Debre Damo and try to figure out how it was possible to climb this cliff in the 6th century without any special alpinist equipment and training.

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