Debre Libanos

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Coordinates: 9°42′43″N 38°50′51″E / 9.71194°N 38.84750°E / 9.71194; 38.84750

Debre Libanos
Debre Libanos in 1934

Debre Libanos (Amharic: ደብረ ሊባኖስ) is a monastery in Ethiopia, lying northwest of Addis Ababa in the Semien Shewa Zone of the Oromia Region. Founded in the 13th century by Saint Tekle Haymanot, he meditated in a cave for 29 years. The monastery's chief abbot, called the Ichege, was the second most powerful official in the Ethiopian Church after the Abuna.

The monastery complex sits on a terrace between a cliff and the gorge of one of the tributaries of the Abbay River. None of the original buildings of Debre Libanos survive, although David Buxton suspected "there are interesting things still to be found among the neighbouring cliffs."[1] Current buildings include the church over Tekle Haymanot's tomb, which Emperor Haile Selassie ordered constructed in 1961; a slightly older Church of the Cross, where Buxton was told a fragment of the True Cross is preserved; and five religious schools. The cave where the saint lived is in the nearby cliffs, which one travel guide describes as a five-minute walk away.[2] This cave contains a spring, whose water is considered holy and is the object of pilgrimages.

According to David Buxton, the original route to Debre Libanos was through a cleft in the cliffs that line the eastern side of the Abay.[3] In the later 20th century a road was laid from the main Addis Ababa – Debre Marqos highway to the monastery; it is a little more than four kilometers long.[4]


Debre Libanos is an Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo monastery.

Debre Libanos suffered great destruction during the invasion of Ahmad Gragn when one of his followers, Ura'i Abu Bakr, set it on fire 21 July 1531, despite the attempts of its community to ransom the church.[5] Although the Ichege intervened to protect the Gambos during the reign of Sarsa Dengel,[6] the buildings were not completely rebuilt until after the visit of Emperor Iyasu the Great in 1699.[7]

In the reign of Emperor Fasilides, after invading Oromos had ravaged the monastery's lands in Shewa the Emperor granted the Ichege his palace at Azazo, where the various Ichege lived.[8]

From the 17th century until the matter was resolved in a synod convened by Emperor Yohannes II, the Ichege and the monks of Debre Libanos were the most important supporters of the Sost Lidet doctrine, in opposition to the House of Ewostatewos.

Emperor Haile Selassie's interest in Debre Libanos dates to when he was governor of the district of Selale. The Emperor notes in his autobiography that during the reconstruction of the church at Debre Libanos, an inscribed gold ring was found in the excavations, which he personally delivered to then Emperor Menelik II.[9]

Following the attempted assassination on his life on 19 February 1937, governor Rodolfo Graziani believed the monastery's monks and novices were involved in this attack, and unwilling to wait for the results of the official investigation, ordered Italian colonialists to massacre the inhabitants of this monastery. On 21 May of that year, 297 monks and 23 laymen were killed.[10] Overall, between 1,700 and 2,100 civilians were slaughtered in two mass executions on 21 May and 26 May.[11] Although when Buxton visited Debre Libanos in the mid-1940s, he found the remains of these victims were plainly visible ("Here were innumerable bones and skulls – bones in bags and bones in boxes, bones lying in confused heaps, awaiting burial");[3] a cross-shaped tomb was afterwards built to contain their remains, which stands next to the parking lot.[12]


Mosaics and stained-glass for the monastery were made and exhibited in London at the Festival Hall by E.O. Hevezi and G.J. Bajo.[13]



  1. ^ David Buxton, Travels in Ethiopia, second edition (London: Benn, 1957), p. 64
  2. ^ Matt Philips and Jean-Bernard Carillet, Ethiopia and Eritrea, third edition (n.p.: Lonely Planet, 2006), p. 111
  3. ^ a b Buxton, Travels, p. 65
  4. ^ Philip Briggs, Ethiopia: The Bradt Travel Guide, 3rd edition (Chalfont St Peters: Bradt, 2002), p. 174
  5. ^ Sihab ad-Din Ahmad bin 'Abd al-Qader, Futuh al-Habasa: The conquest of Ethiopia, translated by Paul Lester Stenhouse with annotations by Richard Pankhurst (Hollywood: Tsehai, 2003), pp. 186–193.
  6. ^ Richard Pankhurst, The Ethiopian Borderlands (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1997), p. 266
  7. ^ Pankhurst, Borderlands, p. 312
  8. ^ Richard Pankhurst, History of Ethiopian Towns (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1982), p. 111. ISBN 3-515-03204-5
  9. ^ Haile Selassie, My Life and Ethiopia's Progress, 1974 (Chicago: Frontline Distribution International, 1997), p. 27.
  10. ^ A more complete account of the events known in Ethiopia as "Yekatit 12" is chapter 14 of Anthony Mockler's Haile Selassie's War (New York: Olive Branch, 2003).
  11. ^ The Plot to Kill Graziani, I. Campbell, Addis Ababa University Press, 2010.
  12. ^ Philips and Carillet, Ethiopia and Eritrea, p. 111
  13. ^ "Mosaics for an Ethiopian Cathedral", The Times (56291), p. 24, 8 April 1965