Debre Damo Monastery

Date: October 24, 2020

Location: Addis Ababa

Debre Damo monastery is situated on an isolated mountain in northern part of Tigray. It is unique compared with most Ethiopian monasteries. It was built, in the sixth century AD, with curved wood panels, painted ceilings and walls dedicated to the legend of Saint (Abune) Aregawi. The history of Debre Damo is centered on the “Nine Saints” who came to Ethiopia from Syria to spread Christianity in the Tigray region. One of them was Saint Aregawi who settled on the mountain of Debre Damo. The other eight saints settled around Tigray countryside and all have their own church named after them.
The mountain, where Debre Damo sits, is steeply rising plateau of trapezoidal shape, about 1000 by 400 meters in dimension, having an elevation of 2216 meters above sea level, and located west of Adigrat in the Eastern Zone of the Tigray Region. The monastery, accessible only by rope up a sheer cliff, is known for its collection of manuscripts, and having the earliest existing church building in Ethiopia still in its original style.
The Debre Damo monastery, which dates back to early Aksumite times, is said to possess the Ethiopia’s oldest existing church. Legend has it that Abba Aragawi, one of the ‘Nine Saints’, while wandering at the foot of the cliff, judged that the plateau above him was a suitable place to live a solitary life. God, hearing his wish, commanded a snake living on the mountain-top to stretch down and lift up the holy man, who made Debre Damo his abode.
The visitor, lacking the kind snake that helped the monastery’s founder to ascend the mountain, has to go up using a rope lowered by the friendly monks. The summit, when eventually conquered 24 metres (78 feet) later, offers panoramic views and complete seclusion and peace for the 300 or so monks and deacons who live there.
The beams and ceiling of the ancient Debre Damo church – around which the monastery is built – are beautifully decorated with carved wooden panels depicting lion, elephant, rhinoceros, snakes, gazelle, antelope, giraffe, and camels. A large number of paintings are preserved there, including several depicting Abba Aragawi’s legendary foundation 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”, lowered from the cliffs, which visitors tie around their waist and are then pulled up by a monk at the top of the cliffs. It is only accessible to men and male animals. Women and even female animals are forbidden to set a foot into the monastery, and must remain under the cliffs and pray from there.
The feast of Saint (Abune) Aregawi is celebrated very colorfully on October 14 Ethiopian calendar (October 24 Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Debre Damo from all over the country.
Day 01 (Oct. 20): Fly to Axum at 0740. City tour of Axum . Overnight at Sabean Hotel.
Day 02 (Oct.21): Drive to Gheralta via Adwa-Abi Adi new road. Overnight at Gheralta or Korkor Lodge.
Day 03 (Oct.22): Visit churches in Gheralta . Overnight at Gheralta or Korkor Lodge.
Day 04 (Oct.23): Drive to Adigrat ,visit Teka tesfay cluster of churches on the way. Overnight at Agoro Lodge or Agamos Hotel.
Day 05(Oct. 24): Today we drive early in the morning and we will experience the unique annual celebration of Debre Damo Monastery. More than 10000 pilgrims are estimated to attend the celebration. In the afternoon drive to Axum on the way visit Yeha Temple ( 5th c BC).Overnight at Sabean Hotel.
Day 06(Oct.25): Transfer to airport and fly to Lalibela. Visit the churches in Lalibela. Overnight at Mezena Lodge.
Day 07(Oct.26): Excursion to Yemrehane Kirstos . Overnight at Mezena Lodge.
Day 08(Oct.27): Transfer to airport for flight to Gondar at 1215.Sightseeing in Gondar. Overnight at Goha Hotel .
Day 09(Oct.28): Drive to Bahirdar (180 kms, 3hrs).Transfer to Kuriftu Lodge. Boat trip on Lake Tana to see the monasteries there. Overnight at Kuriftu Lodge & Spa.
Day 10(Oct.29): Transfer to airport. Fly back to Addis Abeba. Day use room at Jupiter Hotel. Transfer to airport for departure.