Saint of the Day – 27 October – Saint Elesbaan of Ethiopia (Died c 555) King of Ethiopia, Confessor, Penitent Hermit and Monk. Also known as – Elesbaan of Axum, Ella Atsbeha, Ella Asbeha, Calam-Negus, Calam, Caleb, Elesbaas, Elesbas, Elesboas, Eleuzoe, Hellestheaeus, Kaleb.
The Roman Martyrology states today: “St Elesbaan, King, who after having defeated the enemies of Christ and sent his Royal Diadem to Jerusalem, in the time of Emperor Justin, led a monastical life, as he had vowed and went to his reward.”
In the 6th century Ethiopia was ruled by King St Elesbaan, who was raised from childhood in the Catholic Faith. King Elesbaan ruled his country with wisdom and was esteemed by his people.
At that time, Ethiopia was part of the Eastern Roman Empire, under Justinian I. Across the Red Sea, Arabia had fallen to Dunaan, a King who apostatised from the Catholic Faith and adhered to Judaism. He was a despotic ruler, persecuting the Bishops and clergy and destroying the Churches or transforming them into synagogues. St Gregentius, Bishop of Tafas, was expelled from his Diocese; St Aretas, governor of Nagran and leader of the Catholic reaction, was beheaded along with his wife, children and 340 of his people. Around 4,000 Catholics were killed without trial after suffering many cruelties.
Emperor Justinian called on King Elesbaan to chastise the usurper. The King gathered his army and crossed the Red Sea to punish the affront to Catholic honour. Elesbaan landed in Arabia, defeated Dunaan and executed him. Then he restored St Gregentius to his episcopal see, rebuilt the Churches and remained in the country until Ebrahamos, who was Catholic, was elected King of the Arabs.
Once his mission of justice and peace was accomplished, he returned to Ethiopia and ruled there for some years more, carefully instructing his son in the Catholic Faith, making him heir of his zeal and piety and the direction of the Kingdom. Then he renounced his title and handed the rule of the Kingdom to his son.
Disguised as a Hermit, he retired to a Monastery in the mountains. There he lived as a simple religious dedicated to prayer, obedience and work. He carried nothing with him out of the Palace but a mat to lie on and a cup to drink from. His food was only bread, with which he sometimes took a few dry herbs; he never drank anything but water. He would not allow himself the least distinction above the least among his brethren and was the first in every duty of his new state.
No seculars ever had access to him and his whole employment consisted in the exercises of penance, the contemplation of heavenly things and conversing with God, by whom he was at length called, to a happy death, to reign eternally with Christ.
He died with a reputation of sanctity on 27 October c 555. Often he is pictured as a solitary Hermit holding a Cross and with a Crown at his feet.