Tragic Fire Consumes Ancient Archive Collection at Monastery in Tigray, Ethiopia

By Alula Tesfay (PhD)

In a tragic incident, a fire broke out at the historical Monastery of Enda Giorgis Adi Yieqoro Feresmay in Hahaile Woreda, Tigray, Ethiopia. The devastating blaze occurred on Saturday, April 8, 2023, and was caused by an electrical contact, further exacerbated by strong winds. As a result, the monastery’s invaluable archival collection was completely destroyed. The collection housed precious historical and religious artifacts that had been cherished for centuries, according to the monastery fathers.

Pictures 1: Monastery of Enda Giorgis Adi Yieqoro community with burned manuscripts. Screenshot from Gedam Tube YouTube Channel.

The Monastery of Enda Giorgis Adi Yieqoro Feresmay in Hahaile holds immense religious and cultural significance as a place of worship, both before and after the advent of Christianity. Priest Teklu Kidane, the head of the Monastery and Church, expressed his profound sorrow over the devastating incident. He explained that the monastery has been in existence since the time of Hatsey (Emperor) Gebremeskel and (Emperor) Nible Dinigil, with subsequent expansions carried out by Hatsey (Emperor) Nible Seged.

According to Memher Asmamaw Hailu, who was born and raised near the Enda Giorgis Monastery, the fire caused an estimated loss of 100 million birr. The monastery’s archival collection contained valuable artifacts and books of significant historical and cultural importance.

Nubere Id Belay Gebreweled Sibhatu, an expert on Axum’s historical records, mentioned that the Monastery of Enda Giorgis Adi Yieqoro Feresmay Hahaile was recorded in the Wengel Werk book of Axum. Throughout its long history, the monastery served as a dwelling for many emperors and witnessed numerous significant events. For example, in 373 Amete Mihret, the monastery was witness to remarkable occurrences, including the manifestation of the Virtue of Kurban.

Many emperors from that era left behind a wealth of artifacts, contributing to the monastery’s rich cultural heritage. Among the treasured artifacts lost in the fire were the crowns of Hatsey Gebremeskel and Hatsey Libene Dingil, the Miracle Cross (Nebea Meskel), ancient Tsahile Tsiwa, golden crosses, and various precious manuscripts.

Hatsey Dawit I also played a crucial role in the monastery’s history, bringing the cross and establishing the church arc dedicated to the Cross of Christ. Additionally, Hatsey Gebre Meskel resided in the monastery during his campaign to Afar and later established the St. George church. In total, the monastery boasts 19 arcs dedicated to different saints, each holding its own significance and reverence.

To support the rehabilitation of the monastery and salvage what remains of its heritage, a committee comprising five members has been established by the monastery community:

  1. Leake-Hiwot Gebre-Hiwot Gebre-Sillasie (Chairman)
  2. Dr. Kinfe Tewelde-Berhan (Treasurer)
  3. Memher Asmamaw Hailu Abera (Secretary)
  4. Priest Teklay Gebre-Wehad (Finance)
  5. Dr. Gebre-Giorgis Girmay (Auditor)

The committee, along with the local community, is dedicated to rebuilding the Monastery’s archive and collection while preserving its historical and religious significance. Efforts will be made to recover and restore any salvageable artifacts and books, ensuring that the legacy of this ancient monastery is safeguarded for future generations.

The fire incident serves as a stark reminder of the necessity for enhanced fire safety measures and the crucial task of safeguarding priceless cultural heritage from unforeseen disasters. With the introduction of electricity being relatively new to many monasteries, proper usage guidelines and guidance need to be implemented alongside its provision. As the rehabilitation process begins, it is hopeful that support from various organizations and individuals will aid in restoring the Monastery’s continuous activities and preserving its invaluable collections.

To facilitate the rehabilitation efforts, the committee has set up the following bank accounts to collect funds:

  1. Commercial Bank of Ethiopia: Account number 1000058433318
  2. Anbsa Bank: Account number 0031134255563
  3. Dedebit Micro Finance: Account number 60360120

Contributions to these accounts will be instrumental in ensuring the revival of the Monastery and the conservation of its treasured heritage.

Additional Image Gallery of Damages: (Source: Screenshot from Gedam tube

Picture 4: The image shows a burned wall of the monastery archive room.

Picture 5: Monastery community with burnt manuscripts

Picture 6: Monastery community with burnt manuscripts

Picture 7: Burned manuscripts and books

Picture 8: Burnt Tsiwa Tsahil, undated artefact

Picture 9: Collection of church artefacts heavily damaged from fire burn

Picture 10: Pages of burned manuscript

Picture 11: Pages of burned manuscript

Picture 12: Burned manuscripts and books

Picture 13: Burned cross (Nebie Meskel )

Picture 14: Burned Imperial crown

Picture 14: Burned crown

Picture 16: Burnt cross

Picture 17: Burned Liturgical object

Picture 19: Burned manuscripts and books

Alula Tesfay (Ph.D) is a Gerda Henkel Postdoctoral Fellow at the Frobenius Institute, Goethe University of Frankfurt in Germany, and also holds a position as a lecturer at Mekelle University. His research encompasses architecture, urbanism and heritage.