Debre Damo

Debre Damo has become a synonym to monasticism in Ethiopia. Built in the sixth century by King Gebre Meskal, Debre Damo is the second oldest built-up church constructed only after the original Saint Mary of Tsion at Aksum. In effect, it is Ethiopia’s second Christian capital. It is dedicated to Abune Aregawi, who is believed to have vanished to heaven from the holy site where he was teaching. He is considered to have authored the Rules of Monastic Life.
Debre Damo occupies a special place in Ethiopia for more reasons than one. Its rigorous and outstanding Christian teachings, unique monastic life and extraordinarily difficult location, among other things, won it fame across the country. Debre Damo is the Harvard of Christian teachings and monastic life in Ethiopia. With a faculty of distinguished scholastic achievements, Debre Damo has remained a purveyor of church education to many monks and deacons drawn from, among other places, the whole of Tigrai, Gondar, Gojam, Wollo and Shewa. Studying at Debre Damo is a life-time dream for many church scholars who aspire to teach in other monasteries. Indeed, Debre Damo is the country’s best kept intellectual treasure.
It is also reputed for its wealth of religious and royal treasures. Ancient coins, religious manuscripts and royal chronicles are plenty in Debre Damo. For example, the coins that revealed the commercial relations between ancient Ethiopia and India were found in the monastery in 1940. Believed to be issued from the 1st to the 3rd century, the coins belonged to the Kushan kings Vima Kadphises II, Kanishka, Huviska and Vasudeva. Moreover, the coins and textiles found there revealed the strong commercial ties between Ethiopia and Egypt during the reign of Caliph al-Musta’in billah. In Pankhurst’s words, Debre Damo “takes today’s traveler into a past age and leaves him with a deeper understanding of Ethiopia’s age-old and unique civilization than mere words can give.”

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