Located in Irob, Eastern Tigrai, the monastery of Gundagundo, is known for its collection of rare manuscripts and sweet orange. Founded by Abune Estifanos, it is the Church of revolutions, research, documentation, and amazing agricultural findings. Unlike other Orthodox churches, this church follows unique ways of life, religious and worldly doctrines. The monks and nuns are not just monks and nuns, they are scientists, researchers, authors, and high-tech farmers.
The monastery could be accessed through the town of Edagahamus, 100 km from Mekelle. After traveling 24 km northeast of this town on a rough road by car, you reach Geblen, a village situated on the clifftop. From Geblen, you have to travel on foot to reach the monastery through deep valleys and sharp canyons.
Once you descend down the tiresome valleys after hours of travel, you find a river, on the side of which are the sweetest orange fruits on the continent. The genetic make of these fruits is believed to be produced by the monks in a long time of agricultural research.
Gunda Gundo is known for its prolific scriptorium, as well as its library of Ge’ez manuscripts. This collection of over 220 volumes, all but one dating from before the 16th century, is one of the largest collections of its kind in Africa.
- Gunda Gunde Gospels, parchment bound between wooden boards covered with remains of leather, c.1540, (Stephanites), Walters Art Museum.
- The church consists of two old stone and mud houses constructed with four cruciform pillars and twelve arches. The aging church is well noted for its time-honored parchments, crosses, and crowns. It was built by Abune Ezra also known by his nickname as ‘Ezra the wise’ in the 14th century during Emperor Zerayakob. The church has a rectangular shape.
- About 150 monks were believed to be the first dwellers of the monastery. Their leader was Abune Estifanos, the founder and leader of the famous Dekike Estifanos. Dekike Estifanos, meaning ‘followers of Estifanos’. Members of the Dekike Estifanos run strong doctrines and faced barbaric persecutions due to their theological teaching. As to historical manuscripts, Dekike Estifanos had a very progressive idea that could transform or upturn the attitude of a medieval period global society.
Many times in history, churches, and monasteries in Tigrai had been attacked by invaders. These targeted attacks had left the monasteries empty of their irreplaceable heritage. Gundagundo was safely spared from such tragedy. Its geographical location has contributed a lot in this regard. As a result, it was named Gunda Gundo to show its preserving capability and religious significance. Before it was named Gunda Gundo, it was known as Debre Gerizen. Despite its treasures, geez study center, beautiful landscape, and sweet orange, the monastery is least promoted and rarely visited due to its difficult geographic position.
Gunda Gundo hosts plenty of relic books, crosses, thrones, and other heritages. Nevertheless, the heritages have been vulnerable to looting and damage for hundreds of years.
The monastery of Gunda Gunde includes numerous buildings intended to house the monks, books, treasures, agricultural produce, and other logistics.
The main building at Gundagundo has been facing a risk of collapse. Having understood this problem, Mekelle University in collaboration with Tigrai Culture and Tourism Bureau has undertaken renovation works recently. The renovation was performed without damaging its historic architecture.
The restoration project of the historical gundagundo monastry is nearly completed. Roof will be covered with grass. Exemplary collaboration with the Bureau of Culture & Tourism. My appreciation goes to the leadeship & staff at IPEHC @MekUniETH & the bureau! Pic Cr: @tsigeberhe3 pic.twitter.com/oMLb6oJUkh
— Kindeya Gebrehiwot, PhD, Prof (@ProfKindeya) July 29, 2020
To preserve the manuscripts and make them easily accessible, digitization projects have been undergoing at times. You can find a collection of some of the manuscripts in the University of Toronto.