Istifanos Monastery (or St Stephen Monastery) is in Ethiopia, located in Lake Hayq. (The Stephen commemorated at the monastery is not the Saint Stephen of Acts.) The monastery was built around an 8th century church of Aksumite origins[1] by Emperor Yekuno Amlak to fulfill a promise he made to Iyasus Mo'a.[2]

The monastery is responsible for producing five people, known as "Lights" (or important sources of knowledge and Christian salvation) of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. One of these Lights was Saint Tekle Haymanot, who was educated in this monastery, and helped to convert Shewa and other southern provinces by ministering and building churches.

Istifanos Monastery was looted by Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi in 1531, who, upon coming upon the lake ordered the Arabs in his ranks to construct boats to reach the island. The first boats constructed, which were made out of wood beams bounded by cords, proved unsatisfactory; one of the Imam's followers suggested tying air sacs made of cow's skins to each raft, and this allowed the Imam's forces to sail across the lake to the monastery. Seeing that they were now defenseless, the monks of the monastery surrendered their valuables to prevent the destruction of their home.[3]

Currently the monastery houses a number of ancient relics, which include a manuscript copy of the Book of the Gospels written around 1280; Egre-muk (or, wooden-cuffs), a huge pot which ancient monks used to cook, and other 13th century objects.


  1. Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 36.
  2. Taddesse Tamrat, pp. 66-7.
  3. Sihab ad-Din Ahmad bin 'Abd al-Qader, Futuh al-Habasa: The conquest of Ethiopia, translated by Paul Lester Stenhouse with annotations by Richard Pankhurst (Hollywood: Tsehai, 2003), pp. 266-273; The Ethiopian Royal Chronicles, ed. Richard K.P. Pankhurst (Addis Ababa: Oxford University Press), pp. 63-4.

Coordinates: 11°20′20″N 39°42′50″E / 11.33889°N 39.71389°E / 11.33889; 39.71389

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