The monastery is credited for producing five Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church “Lights” (or vital sources of knowledge and Christian salvation). Saint Tekle Haymanot, who was educated in this monastery and ministered and built churches in Shewa and other southern regions, was one of these Lights.
Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi stole Istifanos Monastery in 1531, when he came across the lake and ordered the Arabs in his ranks to build boats to reach the island.
The first boats, fashioned of wood beams tied by cords, were inadequate, so one of the Imam’s followers suggested strapping air sacs made of cow’s skins to each raft, allowing the Imam’s soldiers to sail across the lake to the monastery. The monastery’s monks relinquished their riches to save the destruction of their home, realizing that they were now helpless.
The monastery currently holds a variety of ancient relics, including a manuscript copy of the Book of the Gospels written around 1280; Egre-muk (or wooden-cuffs), a massive pot used by medieval monks to cook; and other 13th century artifacts.
Another valued relic is “The One Who Listens,” an icon of the Christ child sitting on his mother’s knees, which the monks think is magical. The icon was created in the 15th century and was cleaned and repaired by The Ethiopian Heritage Fund, a British organization, in 2010. It was then displayed in a separate museum as the monastery.