Ten African Saints Whose Stories You Should Know.

February 7, 2019 — Leave a comment

 

Tekle Haymanot

Tekle Haymanot (c. 1215 – c. 1313) was an Ethiopian monk who founded a major monastery in his native province of Shewa. He is significant for being the only Ethiopian saint popular both among Ethiopians and outside that country. (Wikipedia)

Tekle Haymanot was born in Zorare, a district in Selale which lies on the eastern edge of Shewa. He was the son of the priest Tsega Zeab (“Gift of Faith”) and his wife Egzi’e Haraya (“Choice of God”), who is also known as Sarah; Tekle Haymanot was born after his parents, who had failed to have children, pledged their firstborn to God. According to tradition, his ancestors had been Christians from Tigray who had settled in Shewa ten generations before.

During his youth, Shewa was subject to a number of devastating raids by Motalami, the pagan king of Damot, which lay beyond the Jamma River. One of Motalami’s most notorious predations was the raid which led to the abduction of Egzi’e Haraya; she is said to have been reunited with Tsega Zeab through the intercession of the Archangel Michael.  These raids weakened the morale of the Christians in Shewa, and strengthened the practice of paganism. There are a number of traditions, some of less historical value than others, which describe Tekle Haymanot’s interactions with Motalami.

His father gave Tekle Haymanot his earliest religious instruction; later he was ordained a priest by the Egyptian Bishop Cyril (known as Kirollos in Coptic).

The first significant event in his life was when Tekle Haymanot, at the age of 30, travelled north to seek further religious education. His journey took him from Selale to Grarya, then Katata, Damot, Amhara,  to end at the monastery of Iyasus Mo’a, who had only a few years before founded a monastery on an island in the middle of Lake Hayq in the district of Amba Sel (the present-day Amhara Region). There Tekle Haymanot studied under the abbot for nine years before travelling to Tigray, where he visited Axum, then stayed for a while at the monastery of Debre Damo, where he studied under Abbot Yohannes, Iyasus Mo’a’s spiritual teacher. By this point he had developed a small group of followers, attracted by his reputation.

Eventually Tekle Haymanot left Debre Damo with his followers to return to Shewa. En route, he stopped at Iyasus Mo’a’s monastery in Lake Hayq, where tradition states he received the full investiture of an Ethiopian monk’s habit. The historian Taddesse Tamrat sees in the existing accounts of this act an attempt by later writers to justify the seniority of the monastery in Lake Hayq over the followers of Tekle Haymanot.

Once in Shewa, he introduced the spirit of renewal that Christianity was experiencing in the northern provinces. He settled in the central area between Selale and Grarya, where he founded in 1284 the monastery of Debre Atsbo (renamed in the 15th century Debre Libanos). This monastery became one of the most important religious institutions of Ethiopia, not only founding a number of daughter houses, but its abbot became one of the principal leaders of the Ethiopian Church, called the Echege, second only to the Abuna.

Tekle Haymanot lived for 29 years after the foundation of this monastery, dying in the year before Emperor Wedem Arad did; this would date Tekle Haymanot’s death to 1313. He was first buried in the cave where he had originally lived as a hermit; almost 60 years later he was reinterred at Debre Libanos. In the 1950s, Emperor Haile Selassie constructed a new church at Debre Libanos Monastery over the site of the Saint’s tomb. It remains a place of pilgrimage and a favored site for burial for many people across Ethiopia.

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