Tekle Haymanot

Tekle Haymanot

Tekle Haymanot or Takla Haymanot (Ge'ez ተክለ፡ ሃይማኖት "takla hāymānōt", modern "tekle hāymānōt", "Plant of Faith"; known in the Coptic Church as Saint Takla Haymanot of Ethiopia) (c. 1215 – c. 1313) was an Ethiopian monk who founded a major monastery in his native province of Shewa. He is considered a saint by both the Coptic and Ethiopian Churches. His feast day is August 17, and the 24th day of every month in the Ethiopian calendar is dedicated to Tekle Haymanot. [Donald N. Levine, "Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopia Culture" (Chicago: University Press, 1972), p. 73]

Early life

Tekle Haymanot was born in the district of Bulga on the eastern edge of Shewa, the son of the priest Sagaz Ab ("Gift of Faith") and his wife Egzi'e Haraya ("Choice of God"), who is also known as Sarah. According to tradition, his ancestors had been Christian who had settled in Shewa ten generations before.

His father gave Tekle Haymanot his earliest religious instruction; later he was ordained a priest by the Egyptian bishop Qerilos.

During his youth, Shewa was subject to a number of devastating raids by Motalami, the pagan king of Damot. As a result, the morale of Christians in Shewa had weakened, and the practice of paganism increased. There are a number of traditions, some of less historical value than others, that describe Tekle Haymanot's interactions with Motalami.

Later career

The first significant point in his life was when Tekle Haymanot, at the age of 30, travelled north to settle 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 he 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, a small group of followers began to attach themselves around him.

Eventually Tekle Haymanot left Debre Damo with his followers to return to Shewa. On his return 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. [Taddasse Tamrat, "Church and State in Ethiopia (1270-1527)" (Oxford, 1972), pp. 160-189]

Once in Shewa, he introduced the spirit of renewal that Christianity was experiencing in the northern provinces. He settled in the central area between Shilalish 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.

Later traditions

Tekle Haymanot is frequently represented as an old man with wings on his back and only one leg visible. There are a number of explanations for this popular image. C.F. Beckingham and G.W.B. Huntingford recount one story, that the saint "having stood too long, one of his legs broke, whereupon he stood on one foot for seven years." [C.F. Beckingham and G.W.B. Huntingford, trans. "The Prester John of the Indies" by Alfonso Alvarez, (Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1961), p. 394n.] Paul B. Henze describes his missing leg as appearing as a "severed leg ... in the lower left corner discreetly wrapped in a cloth." [Paul B. Henze, "Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia" (New York: Palgrave, 2000), p. 63] The traveller Thomas Pakenham learned from the Prior of Debre Damo how Tekle Haymanot received his wings:

:One day he said he would go to Jerusalem to see the Garden of Gethsemane and the hill of blood that is called Golgotha. But Shaitan (Satan) planned to stop Teklahaimanot going on his journey to the Holy Land, and he cut the rope which led from the rock to the ground just as Teklahaimanot started to climb down. Then God gave Teklahaimanot six wings and he flew down to the valley below ... and from that day onwards Teklahaimanot would fly back and forth to Jerusalem above the clouds like an airplane. [Thomas Pakenham, "The Mountains of Rasselas" (New York: Reynal, 1959), p. 84]

Many traditions hold that Tekle Haymanot played a significant role in Yekuno Amlak's ascension as the restored monarch of the Solomonic dynasty [Henze, "Layers of Time", p. 62n.50] , following two centuries of rule by the Zagwe dynasty, although historians like Taddesse Tamrat believe these are later inventions. (A few older traditions credit Iyasus Mo'a with this honor) Another tradition credits Tekle Haymanot as the only "Abuna" born in Ethiopia until the church was granted autocephaly in the 1950s. [E.A. Wallis Budge, "A History of Ethiopia: Nubia and Abyssinia", 1928 (Oosterhout, the Netherlands: Anthropological Publications, 1970), p. 286]


ee also

* Coptic Christianity
* Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

External links

* [http://St-Takla.org/Story-index.html The official Coptic life of Saint Takla Haymanot the Ethiopian]
* [http://www.gospelcom.net/dacb/stories/ethiopia/takla1_haymanot.html Entry from the Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions]
* [http://www.dacb.org/stories/ethiopia/takla2_haymanot.html Biography of Takla Haymanot by Taddesse Tamrat for "The Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography"]

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