The Life of Kristos Samra (ክርስቶስ፡ሠምራ)

Written by Filəṗṗos (Phillip)

Portions translated by Wendy Laura Belcher and Michael Kleiner.

“Three thousand years of writing in Africa has yielded perhaps ten known
 biographies of African women written by Africans before the nineteenth century. Autobiographies by premodern African women are even rarer; an early hagiography about an Ethiopian woman, however, may constitute such a text.
“Gädlä Krəstos Śämra (The Life-Struggles of Krəstos Śämra [Christ
Delights in Her]), written in an Ethiopian monastery sometime between 1450 and 1508, is about a saintly woman who lived in the fifteenth century (no exact dates of her birth or death appear in her hagiography).  The text gives a short overview of Krəstos Śämra’s life in the third person, but then proceeds in the first person as Krəstos Śämra describes a series of her religious visions, including one in which she attempts to reconcile Christ and Satan.
“Although the text contains a few biographical details about her, it is more of an intellectual autobiography, the narrative of one woman’s philosophy and her belief in the possibilities for healing a broken world. As such, this text expands our understanding of the global female visionary tradition, which tends to be oriented more toward reconciliation than damnation. Krəstos Śämra must be placed alongside such visionary medieval women saints as the English Christians Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, the Muslims Rabia of Basri and Lalla Aziza, and the Hindu Mirabai. 
“Today, Krəstos Śämra is Ethiopia’s most popular female saint. Thousands attend her annual festival at the wealthy monastery she founded, at Gʷangʷət,on southeastern Lake Ṭana, in the Ethiopian highlands. Her festival day
is August 30; many online videos record the pilgrimages, hymns, and celebrations in her honor. Churches and monasteries in Ethiopia are named after her and devoted to her. She holds a special place in women’s hearts as
the saint most likely to help women conceive, give birth to a healthy child, and survive childbirth.
“Krəstos Śämra’s name is also spelled in Latin letters as Christos Samra, Kirstos Semra, Krestos Samra,Kristos Samra, and Kristos Semra, all attempts to transcribe her proper name as it appears in the characters (called fidäl) of the ancient language of Gəˁəz: ክርስቶስ፡ሠምራ.”


To learn more about her, read the rest of Belcher’s article “The Life and Visions of Krəstos Śämra, a Fifteenth-Century Ethiopian Woman Saint,” which ends with a translation of two vital sections of her hagiography.
For a summary of the whole book, including the miracles, into English, see this work published by de Birhan media in October 2011, titled Gedle Kirstos Samra. If you are the author of this summary, please contact me so that I can attach your name. I am posting this here as a public service, since the original site where it was posted no longer exists.
The summary was made from the Amharic translation by Tinsae ZeGubae Printing Press in 1976. The publication states “the first thirteen pages of the miracle book contain the prelude and discuss various inscriptions from the gospels together with advice and interpretations of Saint Kirstos Semra’s miracles/hagiography. The prelude is not part of” the summary. The summary is an “attempt to catch the overall messages of her miracles.”

English translation by Michael Kleiner and Wendy Laura Belcher

Appendix 1: Beginning of Gädlä Krəstos Śämra

See the The Life of Krəstos Śämra for the full version with substantive and philological notes; below is just the translation.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, one God.

The birthplace of our mother Kristos Samra  was a town from among the towns of Shawa.  There was a man in that town, extremely rich in gold, silver, and fine garments; in manservants and maidservants;  in horses and in mules. That man’s name was Dargoni;  his wife’s name was Iléni,  [named after that] God-fearing woman whose fame had spread to  the remotest parts of the world. Together Dargoni and Illéni conceived this woman, our wise and humble mother Kristos Samra. They raised her in keeping with the family’s lofty status  and were glad about her beauty.

When Kristos Samra had grown up and reached puberty,  her parents married her  to a man called Samra Giyorgis,  a son of Iyasus Moˀa,  Chaplain of His Majesty.  Samra Giyorgis, whose lineage began from the family of Itsa Sargwah,  was a companion of the king, wealthy in the possessions of this transient world, but also surrounded by the grace of the Holy Spirit.   When he saw the beauty of his bride, our mother Kristos Samra, he loved her very much. The spirit of strength and of wisdom was abundant in her,  [as was] the spirit of intelligence and insight.  Her entire appearance was pleasing; down to her feet, there was nothing ugly about her. Her cheeks were as red  as the rind of a pomegranate, her eyes were like the morning star. Furthermore, her fingers were even,  her lips luscious,  and her nose straight.  Her replies were sweetly worded; her tongue was eloquent,  her speech pleasant and clever. The grace of God, the assistance of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit the Helper  attended her. Everybody who saw her marveled and rejoiced over her beauty.

Her father-in-law, [Iyasus Moˀa], even prophesied about her, saying: “This is an exalted woman,” and he honored her as if she was his lady. 

Then Kristos Samra bore her husband Samra Giyorgis children: nine boys and two girls. She raised them and taught them all God’s Law.

The king also loved and honored Kristos Samra. He gave her maidservants from among his palatial attendants,  marked  with the royal mark, to escort her. They walked with her in their set orders, eighty-six on her right and eighty-six on her left, so all of them together numbered 172.

Kristos Samra’s mule was from beyond the sea; her veil —that is, her facial veil —as well as [her] garments were as fine as the royal women’s garments. The King of Ethiopia, the Anointed of God, favored her with much gold and silver, with shoes of gold, and with all these honors so that her name should be exalted. Truly,  he loved her very much, just like a daughter who had sprung from his loins. All this was granted  to Kristos Samra because it so pleased God, her creator.

Appendix 2: Anecdote about Satan in Gädlä Krəstos Śämra

See The Life of Krəstos Śämra for the full version, with substantive and philological notes; below is just the translation.

 Then my lord Jesus Christ came to me, in great glory. When I saw him, I fell at my Lord God’s feet. Immediately, however, he raised me up with his holy and blessed hands without blemish.

Then he said to me, “Don’t be afraid, my dear Kristos Samra. Rather, tell me your heart’s desire.”

I replied, “If you permit your maidservant [to ask], tell me why you created our father Adam in your image and likeness, and why you were crucified on the wood of the cross. Was it not for the sake of Adam and his offspring?”

Christ replied, “Yes, I was crucified for their sake.”

So I said to him, “If your crucifixion happened for their sake, pardon [all] those who have died, from Abel up to now and in eternity, O Lord! Truly, you are merciful, slow to be angered, given to compassion, and righteous. There is no other God than you, you are all-powerful, and nothing is impossible for you; the entire earth does not [even] fill your hands.”

Now Christ replied to me with these words, “Please judge [for yourself], my dear Kristos Samra. [Weigh] the sins that Adam and his offspring have committed [against] the cross that I, your creator, carried in the court of Caiaphas and Annas with Pontius Pilate as their superior: If they are weighed on the scales, which one is heavier? Does not my suffering [in human hands], which I received on [Good] Friday, weigh heavier?”

When Christ said this to me, I trembled and fell to the ground. Immediately, he raised me up again with his holy hands and asked me, “All the tribulation that I suffered, for whom do you think it was? As the prophet Isaiah says, ‘He came to be slaughtered like a sheep, and like a sheep that does not give a sound5 before him who shears it, he too did not open his mouth despite his suffering.’ As scripture said, I was crucified on a wooden cross—a wicked servant slapped my face, impure people spat on me, and Pilate, sitting on his throne, ordered me to be whipped. Thus was I treated: Shall I show humanity mercy or shall I punish them? Please judge [for yourself], my dear Kristos Samra.”

When Christ had said these things to me, I fell on my face and said to him, “Why do you tell me all the time: ‘Judge [for yourself]?’ You judge, please! Can a servant pass judgment together with his master, or a maidservant together with her mistress? Don’t treat me in this way, O lord! [I merely ask,] Is there any wood that doesn’t smoke [when burned], are there humans who don’t sin? So, pardon them, without questions.”

So Christ replied, “Please tell me your heart’s desire, my dear Kristos Samra, that which is in your heart.”

At that point I replied to him as follows, “My lord, I would like you to pardon the devil, and for all humanity to be saved from being condemned to [eternal] suffering. Truly, you don’t desire the sinner’s death, but rather his turning back [from sin]! This is why I say to you: ‘Pardon the devil!’ Don’t think that I like to say all these things to you. Rather, [I do it] for the sake of Adam and his offspring, because their flesh is my flesh.”

After I had said these things to Christ, our Lord replied with a laugh, “You’re asking me for a difficult thing, my dear Kristos Samra! Many saints who were before you have not asked me for this.” 

After saying this, Christ summoned Saint Michael, the head of the angels. He said to him, “Go and take her to Sheol, because she has asked me to liberate the devil from the [realm of] punishment with [eternal] suffering.”

Immediately, Saint Michael, the head of the angels, took me with him to Sheol. As we were on our way, I said to Saint Michael, head of the angels, “From now on, all humanity shall find rest because I believe that the devil wants to be pardoned and not to be Lord God.”

Then we arrived in hell. My brothers, what can I tell you about the suffering that is found there? I saw people biting each other as if they were dogs.

Then Saint Michael, the head of the angels, said to me, “Summon the devil [and find out] if he wants to be saved.”

So I called out for him, in the language of the angels, “Satan!”

Instantly, Satan shouted [back], in a loud voice, “Who calls out for me, in the place where I am Lord God of many hosts?”

After Satan had said this, he came to me and told me, “I‘ve been looking for you for a long time. Today you have finally come to my home.”

At this point, I replied to him, “Come out quickly! Our Lord has pardoned you, as well as those who are yours.”

When I said this to him, he became enraged. He seized my left hand and dragged me down to the lowest level of She‘ol. However, Saint Michael came to my [aid], following me with his sword of fire in his hands. [With it,] he then struck that abominable [creature] who knows no mercy.

My brothers, what can I tell you about the wailing that arose in that hour! All the [captive] souls swarmed me like bees. [Fortunately], the number of souls who escaped from [hell] on the wings of Saint Michael and on my own wings was something like 100,000. I was delighted when I saw how happy those souls were. I frolicked among them just like a young calf; I was like a horse that races in the king’s presence.

After that, I went to [Christ] my creator, and prostrated myself to the glory of his rule. I said to him, “Is this how you have judged, O Lord?”

He replied, “Have you taken some booty from the hands of the devil?”

I replied, “Yes, my lord, I have, through your power.”

Now he summoned Saint Michael, the head of the angels, and said to him, “Go, take those souls to the home of my dear Kristos Samra.”

At that point I asked him, “Where is that home of mine, my lord?”

He replied, “Your home shall be with my mother [in heaven]. I hereby give you the name of Batra Maryam and commission you as my mother’s shoes and adorn you with great grace and majesty. Blessed are all who love you.” 

Works Cited

Filəṗṗos,  Atti di Krestos Samra, ed. Enrico Cerulli, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium (Leuven: L. Durbecq, 1956).

Anonymous, Gedle Kirstos Samra. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: De Birhan Media, October 2011.

Belcher, Wendy Laura. “The Life and Visions of Krəstos Śämra, a Fifteenth-Century Ethiopian Woman Saint.” In African Christian Biography: Narratives, Beliefs, and Boundaries, ed. Dana Robert. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: Cluster Publications, 2018: 80–95.

Kleiner, Michael, and Wendy Laura Belcher. “Portions of The Life of Krəstos Śämra.” In African Christian Biography: Narratives, Beliefs, and Boundaries, ed. Dana Robert. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: Cluster Publications, 2018.