Debre Libanos Monastery

Markos Sites & Attractions Aug 17, 2021

Founded in 1284 by Abuna Tekle Haymanot, Debre Libanos Monastery served as the centre of the Ethiopian Church for almost 500 years. The monastery's chief abbot, called the Ichege, was second only to the head of the whole Ethiopian Church.

Abuna Tekle Haymanot was an influential religious and political figure who was instrumental both in spreading Christianity through the region and in reinstating the rule of the Solomonic dynasty after several centuries of Zegwe reign. He is usually depicted with six wings and one leg. Tradition has it that after spending seven years standing on one leg, praying, his other leg fell off.

The monastery complex sits on a terrace between a cliff and the gorge of one of the tributaries of the Blue Nile. Although today, the site has a calm, tranquil feel, situated amongst pleasant woodland and streams, in 1937 this was the site of one of the worst atrocities of the Italian occupation. Fascist troops attacked and destroyed the monastery, killing 297 monks, more than 100 deacons and at least 400 lay people.

None of the original buildings of Debre Libanos survive. Although two new churches have been built: the church over Tekle Haymanot's tomb, which Emperor Haile Selassie ordered to be constructed in 1961, and a slightly older Church of the Cross, where a fragment of the True Cross is said to be preserved; it never regained the same status it previously held as a centre of religious learning, despite being home to five religious schools. It does, however, remain an important pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians, who come to pay homage to the bones of the massacred monks.

Along the side of the church, if you cross the river and continue uphill for about 15 minutes, this is spot where Saint Tekle Haimanot is believed to have prayed. Sick people queue to receive holy water here as it is believed to be blessed the saint's prayers.

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