St. Abune Aregawi
by Pete Crowther
Long, long ago, or so I’ve heard,
Nine holy men from Syria came
Intent to bring God’s Holy Word
And spread the same in Heaven’s name
Throughout the godless lands of Tigray;
They lived by vows, they did not marry,
But every day they knelt to pray
Especially Abune Aregawi.
He led them by his good example,
A man of God in every way
With vices none and virtues ample.
Some years went by but then one day
St. Abune Aregawi thought
He’d go and found a monastery:
It had to be a quiet spot,
Uncrowded and temptation-free.
He saw a place on top of a crag
Ideal for prayer and meditation.
Unluckily there was a snag —
No way up save levitation!
He knelt upon his knees to pray
(Until they both began to ache)
That God would help him find a way,
So God produced a giant snake
To do the job and no mistake
For it was half a kilometre
In length at least, for pity’s sake!
Believe you me, or ask St. Peter.
Anyways this snake let down its tail
And slid it round old Abune’s waist
(At this the saint turned rather pale
To find himself so tight embraced) .
But before you could say “Jack Robinson”
St. Abune found himself up high
On top of the cliff and the job was done
With the help of God it was easy as pie!
St. Abune called this holy place
Debra Damo and nowadays
All who tread this holy space
Must climb a rope and not use stairs.
So let us praise this holy man
Who founded Debra Damo
In the year A.D.501
Some fifteen hundred years ago.
His nigdet is for rich and poor
Upon the 14th of October
So all go easy on the suwa
And for St.Abune’s sake, stay sober.
Note: St. Abune Aregawi was an early Ethiopian Christian saint who founded the ancient monastery of Debra Damo. Legend has it that he chose the site at the top of an inaccessible cliff but was only able to gain access to it when, in answer to his prayers, at God's behest a giant snake lowered itself to pick him up and place him on top of the cliff. To this day, access to this ancient monastery (restricted to men and male animals) involves climbing up a rope suspended from the top of the cliff. 'Nigdet' is a saint's feastday; 'suwa' is a kind of home-made beer served at such feasts.