Yared the Melodious (Saint)

[work in progress….]

Yared the melodious was born in Axum around 501. He was named after the father of Enoch in the Bible (Genesis 5:18). Yared went to the church school but struggled to grasp the reading and memorization of the Psalms. Hagiography has it that he was inspired to persevere in learning while watching an ant managing to crawl up a tree’s bark only after six failed attempts.

Yared eventually became the father of Ethiopian traditional church education. He pioneered biblical interpretation, hymnody and liturgical dance, yet is best known for his musical compositions. His antiphonary books also contributed to the Qene poetry in classical Ethiopic.

According to Ethiopian tradition, God sent three white birds from heaven to Yared, foretelling him that he will learn to recite the hymnody of the 24 heavenly priests. Having seen the divine liturgy, Yared immediately began to compose poetic hymns and went to the sacred Zion Church of Axum. There, in the year 541, he offered praise to the Trinity and improvised the following hymn that connects creation, Sabbath and the Ark (tabot):

In the beginning, God made the Heaven and the Earth;
And having completed all, He rested on the Sabbath;
And Said He to Noah at the onset of the Flood:
“Build yourself an Ark by which you may be saved.”

Translation by Hailu Habtu (1997), p. xxii

Decades later, Yared sang before King Gabra Masqal. Mesmerized by the melody, the king pierced Yared’s foot. However, Yared was so enveloped by contemplation that he did not notice his wound (see icon below). The saint spent his twilight years as a hermit. It is believed that he passed away [Q: in the Semien mountains?] in 576.

Yared’s five hymnodic works are Deggwa, Tsome Deggwa, Mieraf, Zemare and Mewasit. They are used for various liturgical occasions (including funerals and feasts) and Ethiopia’s liturgical year and agricultural seasons.

[Q: Is it preferable to explain each of the works rather than a general introduction? E.g., Andualem Dagmawi 2019, chapter 1. Systematically speaking, it seems that the number of hymnodic works is FOUR (five only due to practical reasons?)]

Since classic Ethiopic manuscripts are revered as sacred objects of the church, Yared’s hymns and chants remained stable. However, his students introduced minor additions. Other scribes slightly revised the text and music notations (Q: during the times of  Emperor Zar’a Ya’eqob?).

The three dominant musical instruments in the liturgy are the prayer staff (Tau-cross [Q: should we call it a music “instrument” or compare it to a “conductor’s baton”?]), the sistrum and the drum.

The major Yaredic melodies [Q: modes?] represent persons of the Trinity:

  • The Ge’ez tune (not the classic Ethiopic language) symbolizes the Father. It is hard and stern.
  • The Izl melody is gentle and full of love. It is a representation of the Son.
  • The Araray tune, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, has a melancholic quality. It is used for occasions like Lent and funerals.

[Please add a concluding paragraph]


(courtesy Tekletsadik Belachew)

Album with Yaredean Hymns

(1) Ethiopia I: Copts. Music Of The Ethiopian Coptic Church (UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music of the World. An Anthology of African Music, 4). Recorded by Jean Jenkins in Addis Ababa in 1965. Kassel: Bärenreiter-Musicaphon. ‎[See tracklist on discogs.com]


Kidus Yared Zemawoch - ቅዱስ ያሬድ ዜማዎች


» Watch selected videos on Yared

» Visit page with videos on EOTC Liturgy
(Resource Section of this website)

For further study

  • Vatican Aeth. 28
    (Oldest complete Degwwa that has been preserved,
    Soma Deggwa [inclomplete]; 15th century)
    » View ms. online
  • EMML 7078 (Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library)
    (Arba’t arranged by melodic group; 12th–13th century;
    » View ms. online in VHMML
    (Virtual Reading Room of Hill Museum & Manuscript Library;
    registration necessary [no paywall])
  • EMML 6944
    (Mazmur, liturgical order; 14th century)
    » View ms. online in VHMML
  • EMML 2095
    (Arba’t, liturgical order; 14th–15th century)
    » View ms. online in VHMML
  • Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, eth. 92
    (several collections; 15th century)
  • EMML 4667
    (Deggwa, Soma Deggwa; 15th–early 16th century)
    » View ms. online in VHMML
  • EMML 1894
    (Deggwa, Soma Deggwa, Me’raf [Tagulat?]; 16th century)
    » View ms. online in VHMML
Other primary sources

Lisane Worq Gabra Giyorgis [Meri Geta] (1997). Tintawi Serate Mahelet ZeAbuna Yared. (‘The Ancient Order of Singing of our Father Yared, the Master‘). Addis Ababa: Maison des Etudes Ethiopiennes.  

Velat, Bernard, ed. and transl. (1969). Soma Deggua: Antiphonaire du Carême;, quatre premières semaines (Patrologia Orientalis, vols. 32.3-4 [no. 153-154]). Paris: Firmin-Didot, etc. 

Hagiographic accounts

Budge, E.A. Wallis (1920). The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church: A translation of the Ethiopic Synaxarium made from the manuscripts Oriental 660 and 661 in the British Museum. 4 vols. Cambridge: University Press. [vol. 3, pp. 875–877 on Yared;
» View OCR online, pp. 503-504]

Conti Rossini, Carlo, ed. and Latin transl. (1904). Acta Yārēd et Panṭalēwon (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, 2nd ser., 17). Paris: C. Poussielgue. [Reprinted in 1961 as Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, 26–27; Scriptores Aethiopici, 9–10. Louvain: Peeters.]
» View Ge’ez text and Latin translation

Secondary literature

Andualem Dagmawi Gobena (2019). Soteriology in the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church as Reflected in the Liturgical Hymns of the Dəggʷa of Yared. PhD dissertation. Toronto: St. Michael’s College and the Graduate Centre for Theological Studies of the Toronto School of Theology. [View online]

Ayele Bekerie (2007). “St. Yared – the great Ethiopian composer”, Tadias Magazine. [View online]

Brita, Antonella (2014). “Yared”, in: A. Bausi (ed.): Encylopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 5, 26-28. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Ephraim Isaac (2012). The Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahido Church (Afroasiatic Studies). Trenton: The Red Sea Press.

Fritsch, Emmanuel (2001). The Liturgical Year of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Temporal: Seasons and Sundays (Ethiopian Review of Cultures. Special Issue). Addis Ababa, 2001.

Getachew Haile (2017). “Some Notes on Priest Yared and His Contribution”, in: Ethiopian Studies in Honour of Amha Asfaw. New York: No publisher mentioned. [page range?]

Habtemichael Kidane (2005), “Dəggʷa”, in: S. Uhlig, ed., Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 2, p. 123–124. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Hailu Habtu (1997). “Introduction”, in Lisane Worq Gabra Giyorgis (Meri Geta): Tintawi Serate Mahelet ZeAbuna Yared (‘The Ancient Order of Singing of our Father Yared, the Master‘), p. _ _ – _ _ . Addis Ababa: Maison des Etudes Ethiopiennes. [page range?]

Irvine, A. K., and Sergew Hable-Selassie (1975). “Yared”, in: Belaynesh Michael, S. Chojnacki and R. Pankhurst (eds.), The Dictionary of Ethiopian Biography, vol. 1. Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies. (Reproduced with permission in: Dictionary of African Christian Bibliography. [View online]

Pérès, Jacques-Noël (2000). “La Chenille et les oiseaux: Yãrêd le Mélode dans la tradition de l’église d’Éthiopie”, in: A.M. Traiacca and A. Pistoria (eds.), L’Hymnographie: Conférences Saint-Serge XLVIe Semaine d’Etudes Liturgiques. Paris, 29 Juin–2 Juillet 1999, p. 47–55. Roma: Edizioni Liturgiche.

Shelemay, Kay Kaufman, Peter Jeffery and Ingrid Monson (1993). “Oral and written transmission in Ethiopian Christian chant”, Early Music History 12: 55–117. [View online]

Taddesse Tamrat (1985). “A Short Note on the Ethiopian Church Music”, Annales d’Ethiopie 13: 135–143. [View online]

Tedros Abraha (2009). “Quotations from Patristic Writings and References to Early Christian Literature in the Books of St. Yared”, Le Museon 122 (3–4): 331–404. [View online; paywall]

Tekletsadik Belachew (2020). “From Abba Salama to King Lalibela: Christian Traditions in Ethiopia are among the Oldest in the World”, Journal of African Christian Biography 5/4 (2020): 60–66. [View online]

Tekletsadik Belachew