Debre Damo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Debre Damo is the name of a flat-topped mountain, or amba, and a 6th-century monastery in northern Ethiopia. The mountain is a steeply rising plateau of trapezoidal shape, about 1000 by 400 meters in dimension. With a latitude and longitude of 14°22′26″N 39°17′25″E / 14.37389°N 39.29028°E / 14.37389; 39.29028Coordinates: 14°22′26″N 39°17′25″E / 14.37389°N 39.29028°E / 14.37389; 39.29028, it sits at an elevation of 2216 meters above sea level. It is located west of Adigrat, in the Mehakelegnaw Zone of the Tigray Region.

The monastery, accessible only by rope up a sheer cliff, 50 ft. high, is known for its collection of manuscripts and for having the earliest existing church building in Ethiopia still in its original style, and can only be visited by men. Tradition claims the monastery was founded in the sixth century by Abuna Aregawi.

The monastery[edit]

The way into the monastery

The monastery received its first archeological examination by E. Littman who led a German expedition to northern Ethiopia in the early 20th century. By the time David Buxton saw the ancient church in the mid-1940s, he found it "on the point of collapse";[1] a few years later, the English architect D.H. Matthews assisted in the restoration of the building, which included the rebuilding of one of its wood and stone walls (a characteristic style of Aksumite architecture).[2] Thomas Pakenham, who visited the church in 1955, records a tradition that Debre Damo had also once been a royal prison for heirs to the Emperor of Ethiopia, like the better known Wehni and Amba Geshen.[3] The exterior walls of the church were built of alternating courses of limestone blocks and wood, "fitted with the projecting stumps that Ethiopians call 'monkey heads.'" Once inside, Pakenham was in awe of what he saw:

The church of Debre Damo


  1. ^ David Buxton, Travels in Ethiopia, second edition (London: Benn, 1957), p. 126
  2. ^ David Buxton, The Abyssinians (New York: Praeger, 1970), pp. 97ff
  3. ^ Thomas Pakenham, The Mountains of Rasselas (New York: Reynal & Co., 1959), pp. 79-86
  4. ^ Pakenham, p. 85