Yared is one of the very few early Ethiopian saints known to history, and no copy of his original acts has been discovered; thus, important facts about him are uncertain. His second hagiographer lived most probably in the fifteenth century. However, the tradition is firm that the Ethiopian church owes the composition of its antiphonary, the Deggwa, its music as well as the great part of its hymns, to this great saint.
Yared flourished during the reign of Gabra Masqal (c. 558-588).
He was a son of an Axumite priestly family of Yeshaq and Krestina (Isaac and Christina). When his father died while the son was still a child, his mother took him to Gedewon (Gideon), a famous biblical scholar of the time who also happened to be a relative. It soon became clear to the child and the teacher that Yared did not have the talent for learning. Frustrated after several trials and unable to further endure his master’s beatings, Yared considered abandoning school. He left his master and ran away into the woods. While sitting there resting, he watched a caterpillar trying to climb a tree. When he saw that it succeeded after very many attempts, he went back to his teacher to try further. With persistence and prayers, Yared succeeded in becoming a great scholar.
Yared grew up serving as a deacon at the church of Axum, site of the “Ark of Zion,” the tabot (ark) that was believed to house Moses’ tablets of the Ten Commandments. When he reached the age of maturity, he married and became both a father and an accomplished priest. His marriage was, however, not without problems. When he discovered that his wife had a lover, he planned to ambush and kill him. He abandoned the plan only when the messenger of God came to him in the form of three birds and reminded him that he should rather value his priesthood.
It seems that at this time Yared left Axum (or even Ethiopia) and probably went to the Holy Land and the neighboring countries where Christian worship had developed. According to his hagiographer, singing in church in a loud voice was not known in the Ethiopian church at that time. But in Jerusalem, he heard songs of praise to God in a loud voice. One of the birds appeared again and taught him the three types or modes of melodies that are still in use in the Ethiopian church.
As noted, tradition ascribes to Yared the composition of the voluminous antiphonary for the year, the Deggwa. There is no reason to doubt that Yared was responsible for the composition of the nucleus of the Deggwa, the text as well as the melody. But the Deggwa was greatly enlarged by the inclusion of hymns for the saints who lived after the death of Yared. It includes, for example, hymns of the majority of saints who flourished from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries.
After serving at the church in Axum for several years, Yared decided to abandon his homeland and go west to Semen. The reason is not clear, but he spent the rest of his life teaching there. His concealed tomb is believed to be there.
Yared is commemorated on 11 Genbot (Bashans).