The Feast of the Departure of Saint Yared

May 18, 2015

By Tsegaye Girma

Ginbot 11 (May 19) marks the departure of St. Yared, the great Ethiopian composer who lived in the 6th century. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church attributes its rich, age-old chant tradition to the Saint and commemorates his disappearance each year on this day. 

St. Yared was born in 505 E.C. in Axum to Abyud and Tawklia. After the death of his father, at the age of seven, his mother sent him to her priest brother named Gidewon to teach the lad and to look after him. As a child, St. Yared never seemed to succeed in his studies as he had difficulty understanding what his uncle taught him. At one point, he had even fled from Gidewon, an incident which led him to the turning point in his life.

While taking shelter under the shade of a tree, Yared saw a caterpillar (some claim an ant) trying to climb the tree. Despite its repeated failures, the insect finally managed to creep up the tree and ate its fruit. Yared drew an inspiration from the determination of the tiny creature and went back to his uncle to start learning afresh. His efforts then bore fruit and he managed to learn by heart whatever he was taught including both Old and New Testament with unbelievable brilliance, and grew in excellence as he grew older and older.

Saint Yared also gained melodic insight through divine revelation and composed melodious sacred melody which had never been heard before in this world. He created a system of chants in three modes (scores) called Ge’ez, Izil, and Ararary. There is no any sound system out of the category of the three modes of these hymns St Yared invented divinely. Saint Yared also wrote five volumes of chants for church services and celebrations. These volumes include The Book of Digua and Tsome Digua (chants for church holidays and Sundays services), The Book of Me’eraf (chants for major holidays, daily prayers and the season of fasting), The Book of Zimmare (chants to be performed after Mass) and The Book of Mewasit (chants for the dead). ST. Yared also created ten melodic notations for his spiritual melodies many centuries before the world-renowned composers Mozart and Beethoven.

There are two views among scholars of the church about the final days of St Yared’s life in this world. Some say he passed away while others contend that he disappeared like Saint Henok and Elijah the Prophet.

Despite that, every year on Ginbot 11 (May 19), the Ethiopian Orthodox Church marks the disappearance of the Saint who adorned its service with melodious sacred music.

May the blessing of Saint Yared be with us all!