‘Merkerewos Monastery’ – A World of Two Horizons

Next Saturday, it is a yearly religious celebration of one of the oldest Monasteries in Eritrea: Saint Merkerewos Monastery. Well credited for its hundreds of old manuscripts and other anthropologically attracting cultural treasures. This Monastery has been well managed in supporting the documentations of all its significant profiles. Perhaps, reading historical accounts of ancient Eritrea adds another passion in knowing this country which is ancient, and too young as a modern hub.

Thus, this monastery which was founded in 1340 Geez calendar (Julian calendar) has been very eminent for its assets. If you get to the comparatively well-furnished library, hundreds of manuscripts are there to narrate past times genealogical, philosophic, historical and social chronicles of ancient and modern Eritrea. In our daily conversation, for instance, we frequent applying the word ‘Megzaeti Turki’ for expressing painful treatments, (to remind us how cruel the Turkish colonization was).

Merkerewos Monastery - A World of Two Horizons

In one of the old manuscripts of this Monastery— Gedli Merkerewos (Hagiology of Merkerewos); however, a battlefield between Saladin of the Ottomans and of the ‘Agazit’ land Dawit in 1377 Julian calendar has clearly been archived. Such details concerning that time when colonial forces engulf, to the time when Eritrea was fighting for dear life to keep its survival.

Reading how the colonial force was treating the society badly also amazes you and let you know the root of the idiomatic word, ‘Megzaeti Turki.’ Of course, subsequent to the Orthodox Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Asmara, this monastery has the greatest number of old manuscripts and other valuable treasures. Last year when I visited the library of this Monastery, in the first place, I witnessed a 550 years old manuscript which is full of eventful chronicles.

And aside to that, there was a genealogy archive. Partially translated into Tigrigna and published in 2009 in China, this genealogical manuscript armors to the Cushitic, Nilotic and Semitic lines of the Eritrean society. And this old manuscript attracts different scholars and researchers and has been helpful in avoiding the fabrication of other unlike stories frequently attempted but gravely failed efforts by the Ethiopian colonialists. Meanwhile, in this Monastery, legend meets the old times.

And within twelve meters difference, there are two horizons of one world. In the northern part, there is the old Church which has still the ancient paintings. Thus, as in this time modern and graphicscentered pictures are reserving their allotment over those historically important old paintings. Now, concerned bodies have to take their responsibilities in keeping these old treasures intact.

Reconstructed in 1628, this religious monastery is also famous for its regulation; it allows only men to enter its vast compound while women have another part which is only eighty meters far. Historically remembered, as the main opponent of the traditional poem performers (Massegnatat), following the resolution it had issued on 25/26 December of 1628, this Monastery has different mode of life from the egalitarian system of livelihood of the Bizen Monastery.

Here, no matter how the religious hierarchy of the occupants of the Monastery, no one is mandated to wear the same type of cloths, to eat the same type of food, or to experience the same way of life in monkhood. And in Southern part of the ancient Church, there is another place for women. And the women who allot their place there are famous for their pottery products that have been demanded across the whole country.

Asmara’s markets have common products of those women, especially ‘Jebena,’ a clay pot for preparing the traditional coffee ceremony. Contrary to the norm in Keren suburbs in which we have the men who are talented in producing various clay-products, here, however, it is an absolute works of the women. After some kilometers from this place also, there is the ‘Burkuah Mary Shrine,’ in which the nuns have full autonomy and full authorization for running the place.

With eighty meters difference, there are interesting tourist attraction places, open to the general public. And the attraction starts with visiting to the stonecamped place ‘Ewestatewos,’ a gate to the Monastery. In this place which is located near Adi-Gulti Elementary and Junior Schools, there is a clearly depicted pair of shoes of the Monastery founder.

Without delving much to other tracks, how such rocks are still evident with clearly depicted marks of a horse, and human-shoes, is still another magnetizing ingredient to culture and art connoisseurs. On the way to ‘Wutuh,’ a cave which is hewn from rocky spheres and was a place of prayers of this Monastery founder, there are four small and flattened stones.

Positioned in horizontal and vertical lines, like the stone ‘Emni Hayli,’ these stones are too heavy to lift them from the ground. While it is possible to raise other similarly weighing stones in that specific place, why these four stones have never been movable is another addition to surprise visitors. After travelling two kilometers from this, you have the ‘Wutuh’ or ‘Mitsilay’ cave.

After entering inside the cave, its alignment and its very short pillars that attracts your glances. Legend narrates about the who reside there, which had the custom of standing on the short-pillars and sing together with the Monastery founder. Then you notice that travelling to old times overwhelms you by current touring opportunities which is a golden prospect.

Surrounding areas of ‘Wutuh’ by itself has a name in bold for its fauna and flora species. The valley of Mai-Daero and the mill on the bank of this river had an important role in the hearts of the EPLF members, who were stationed there for over one decade. This adds another branch of historical accounts. And near this rocky valley, there are hundreds small and large caves which are still remembered for their significant roles in shielding the surrounding civilians from aerial bombardments of the Ethiopian invaders.

When we return back again to the Monastery, in one of the old homes of the abbot, there is one large cross, which is 665 years old according to the monastery’s version, this cross was used by the founder of the Monastery to put down and slay an extreme large wild animal which was referred as “horny as a fierce ox, with its teeth as strong as an elephant, and its eyes were shiny and fearful.”

Centered to this legend which was supposedly reported as it happened on 20 March of 1336 Julian calendar, the cross has been kept profoundly. In addition to this, various attires and other accouterments has the good nature of attracting interested visitors, the mode of lifestyles which are intact in their initial elements since its formulation in 1348 by the founder of the monastery and other 900 monks. They have their own history to tell visitors the decisiveness of law and its usefulness upon those who adhere to it.

Consequently, even affairs that seem to come from modern issues also accompany by the old laws of monkhood and, under any time, arbitrational decisions are fully based on those laws. Last year, before concluding my tour, respective abbot of the Monastery was enthusiastic to show me the ‘naturally hewed’ four large rocks from which the current 64 monks and other numbered students are getting their water supply.

Defining how these four large rocks which are stood near the large kitchen hewn from one rock is really challenging. The only option visitors have is reserving their seats in the old lounge of the Monastery and taking photographs for amazing times. Good-photographers can even take high-resolute pictures stood in the eastern part from which they can manage the graveyard of the founder of the monastery who passed away on December 25 (16 Julian calendar) of 1412 (1404 Julian calendar).

At last, as the unpaved road from the midway to Areza and then the Monastery has been renovated, this year’s celebration of this monastery has added another color. Resultantly, as the Harat Transport Company also ushered that its operation branch is ready to provide efficient services in this line, which had been a center of complaint on the overpriced charges by the private bus owners and other agencies, of course, the pilgrimage will be worth interesting.

Bon Voyage! 

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