The Legend of Saint Abuna Aregawi’s Monastery

“So, my saint name is “Waleta Aregawi,” which derives from the saint Abuna Aregawi, who was a Syrian monk who was residing in Ethiopia. And basically, he is famous for building the Debre Damo monastery, which is on a mountain top. So, the legend says that when he was at the base of the mountain, a large green serpent came to him and Saint Michael was giving him instructions on how to build a monastery and after that, the snake coiled around the monks body and helped him travel up the mountain to build the monastery.”

In Ethiopia, especially in the orthodox church, when you are baptized as a child, you are given a saint name. According to the informant, multiple people can have the same saint because it correlates with both the month and the certain day you are born. For example, the informant was born in August, which translates to “neḥāsē” in Amharic, and she believes that the 31st is attached to Abuna Aregawi. She actually brought a picture of her saint and keeps it in her room here at USC.

While multiple people can have the same saint, she believes that her own saint name, “Waleta Aregawi,” is specific to her.

The monastery is a real location that can still be visited today. The monastery is not only for people who have Abuna Aregawi as their saint, but for everyone.

The informant relayed this to me while we were sitting on a bench on the USC campus.

When the informant first described this to me, I saw a lot of similarities with astrological signs. You have the specific month and day you were born connecting you with others who supposedly are similar to you. While not exactly similar concepts, the idea of being connected to a group of others with the same heading creates a sort of community within a community. At the same time, it also gives a form of identification and belonging to their particular religion.