Since the introduction of Christianity and Islam to Eritrea, the country is endowed with ancient Monasteries and Mosques that are in possession of ancient historical heritages and places of worship. The Monasteries of Debre Bizen, Debre Sina, Hum, the Sahaba Mosque and the Shrine of Mariam De’arit are some of the Holy places that are ancient, historical places and attract many visitors.
Most of the monasteries and shrines celebrate their special day every year at a specific time during which thousands of people from the different religions, Christians and Moslems, and from all walks of life, the young, old men and women, pay pilgrimage to the monasteries.
June 28 every year is celebrated at Debre Sina Monastery. It is said that this day (June 21 in the Gregorian calendar) Saint Mary has been seen by shepherd girls beneath a large boulder. The Church is built adjacent to and over the rock where the vision took place. To this day June 21 (Gregorian calendar) Saint Mary’s Day is celebrated every year at Debre Sina Monastery.
Debre Sina Monastery is located around 18 kilometers from Elaberet, Anseba region, on the Asmara-Keren road. The area is too small to accommodate the tens of thousands of pilgrims and they are forced to camp scattered on the hill sides spending the whole night chanting religious songs and prays.
What makes the area beautiful besides the religious festivity held there is the breath taking landscape and the rugged terrain to go through. Most of the pilgrims have to walk a long distance since small cars could not make through the road. The long distance to walk, the energy that is spend to reach there, the tranquil and peace full atmosphere, (every one’s mind is focused on one and one aim and that is asking Saint Mary for something that is important for the specific individual) makes the days of pilgrimage very special.
Those who go by buses reach the monastery less tired and mostly they assume the responsibility to receive and nourish those who come there by foot and tired of the long distance they have to walk. Such a culture, though typical Eritrean, is what makes the pilgrimages to monasteries and Holy places as interesting and people expect them every year.
This year, I was told by one of Harat Transportation Company employee that more that 300 buses have been assigned to transports pilgrims to Debre Sina Monastery. This is only for the company only; there are hundreds of private buses, Four Wheel Drive vehicles, and many more traveling by foot. This indicates that the monastery, and the other places of worship during their days of festivity, attracts hundreds of thousand pilgrims, domestic tourists. With more publicity these places would not only attract domestic tourists but we could take the advantage of them in the growth of our tourism industry, the same that of Mecca and Saint Mary of Lourdes in France.