Eritrean religious history: Two kilometer out of Keren is the shrine of St. Mariam Dearit, a statue of the Virgin Mary that has its residence inside a trunk of an ancient baobab tree out in the open field, over 500 years old and 75 feet high. The statue is believed to have powers of healing. It is also believed to mark the spot from which fertility springs. Local women brew coffee in the shade of the tree and believe they have been blessed fertility-wise if a passing traveler accepts a cup. On May 29th every year, there is a pilgrimage to, and a cultural, spiritual and family event at the site. Thousands of people from all over Eritrea flock to Keren to enjoy the celebrations and congregate. To attend the prayers, the procession of the statue of the Virgin Mary around the baobab tree and to dance and sing afterwards.
In 1869, a group of French nuns known as ‘deqi feqri’ [Daughters of Charity] opened an orphanage in the Keren area where Abune Tuovier, a French priest, granted them a piece of land to grow orchards. The French Lazarists sent a bronze statute of the Virgin Mary to the sisters. The nuns located a huge Baobab tree and curved a shrine in its trunk. After blessing the statue of the Virgin Mary, they set her in the shrine. The orchards that the sisters planted still stand.
In World War II, according to legend, a group of Italian soldiers, who were under attack from British planes took refuge inside the shrine to avoid bombing. It is believed that a bomb struck the trunk of the Baobab tree and landed between the soldiers but the bomb didn’t explode and the soldiers survived. The hole can still be witnessed on the walls of the trunk.