November 17, 2018
Debre Damo, sitting atop a mesa in Tigray, is one of Ethiopia’s oldest Christian monasteries, dating back to the 6th Century AD. According to legend, the saint Abuna Aregawi found his way to the summit when a snake lowered its tail for him to climb.
The mountaintop monastery of Debre Damo, seen from a distance.
To this day, only men are allowed atop Debre Damo, and instead of a helpful snake there is a rope and some toeholds (and some help from a guy at the top with a safety cord).
This guy makes it look easy:
Then it was my turn (to climb the rope up the cliff to Debre Damo monastery, in Ethiopia).
From atop Debre Damo, you can see all the way to neighboring Eritrea.
I arrived at the actual monastery of Debre Damo just as the monks were starting their prayers.
There are about 150 Ethiopian monks at Debre Damo and they are entirely self-sufficient atop their mountain.
After some negotiation, one of the priests allowed me into the church where they had begun prayers.
The monastic church at Debre Damo is likely the oldest one standing in Ethiopia, dating back to the 10th Century AD.
The monastic community at Debre Damo (viewed here from atop the bell tower) has preserved a host of religious treasures including one of Ethiopia’s largest libraries of illuminated manuscripts, dating back hundreds of years.
Some last glimpses of the ancient, men-only, mountaintop monastery of Debre Damo, in Tigray, northern Ethiopia.
The view from atop Debre Damo before heading back down that rope.
A panorama of the scenery near Debre Damo in Tigray, northern Ethiopia.