Rock, Stairs, Rope, and Monk

My journey to the monastery Debre Damo was a dream come true. It was like approaching an island in the heavens.

The monastery sits atop a sheer-sided flat top mountain. Abuna Aregawi  was one of the Nine Saints who established Debre Damo. Ethiopic hagiography relates that a snake lowered his tail down a 15-meter cliff and he climbed up. Today a rope is lowered and you begin an ascent.

The Rock: Debre Damo is on the top of this rock, a flat topped mountain called an amba

The Stairs: You climb almost 300 stairs to get to the base of the monastery.

DebreDamo-340 years ago when I came to Ethiopia I wanted to visit Debro Damo. At that time it was in a war zone. Today I did visit. The only access is to climb this cliff with a rope.

The Rope: As I approached and saw folks struggling I had second thoughts. Then I thought “I have come this far and it is the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel in Ethiopia today so I will do this.”

This is a closeup of the previous picture, showing a young man partway through the ascent.


The first third of the climb was frightening because I could not get my balance but once I did that it was fine; however the last pull up was hard. Everyone was cheering and applauded when I made it. It is all young people. The monk said you are among the few of the older folks that tried and fewer that made it. One boy said “you are older than my grandfather and he could not do what you did.”

DebreDamo-5The Monk: He greeted me like a brother and the young guys were delighted and were talkative and were as amazed as I that I made it. If I had not my sabbatical would have been cut short.

More steps

The View

DebreDamo-9The monastic church. The church dates to the 6th century and is a good example of Aksumite architecture.

The bell tower of the monastery church

I wanted to pick up a drum however was hesitant. The priest smiled and invited me to pick up the drum.

DebreDamo-12The 200 monks are self-sufficient and collect their water in these cisterns.

DebreDamo-13The monastic enclosure.

Getting ready for the descent.

My love for Ethiopia began over 40 years ago in my first Church History course in Rome. We are so deprived of the riches of our exceptional Christian culture! These early monks went to such extremes in asceticism in a place that was barren but then was filled with beauty. Early Christianity is a mystery that is thick in meaning whereas today Christianity in most people’s minds is very thin and flat but in reality is so rich; however that richness is hidden from their eyes. My blog this year is to share my love and fascination with an aspect of Christianity that has captured my heart and leads me to a deeper love for Jesus. As for me because my mind lives in this ancient world, the modern world for me is very flat and thin whereas the Christian world is so thick with meaning.

1 thought on “Rock, Stairs, Rope, and Monk

  1. Pingback: Remembering Ethiopian Monastic Adventure a Year Later | The Wonder of Truth

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