Artifacts of Christian Nubia Revealed

October 04, 2014 (Source:

Originally reported on Oct. 03

Thanks to the efforts of Polish archaeologists and a massive UNESCO-led international campaign, a unique assemblage of Nubian art and cultural artifacts from the Christian period (ca. mid-6th-14th centuries) was uncovered. Working under the direction of Prof Kazimierz Michałowski in the ancient city of Faras near the present-day Sudanese-Egyptian border, the team discovered well-preserved ruins of an 8th-century cathedral church. Its walls were decorated with magnificent mural paintings on religious themes, dating from the 8th-14th centuries. The discovery was hailed as the ‘miracle of Faras’. Over 120 paintings were preserved, 67 of which are today in the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw. This collection is accompanied by other finds from Faras. Together they form what is the largest and most valuable collection of archaeological artifacts from overseas excavations that has ever been acquired by a Polish museum.

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NFTU Editor’s Note:
The above linked article is very good for the reason that it exposes the fact that Christianity had reached into Nubia, or the area we call Sudan, which was a largely black African area. This area had accepted Christianity. In Christian Nubia there were three main Kingdom: Nobatia, Alodia, and Makuria.  Nobatia, along with Alodia, succumbed to Monophysite domination (and thus followed the trend in Ethiopia); despite the fact that Alodia had missionaries sent there from St. Justinian, Orthodoxy was to be only a minority. However, the most powerful of the black Nubian kingdoms, Makuria, accepted Orthodoxy (‘Chalcedonianism’) and proved to be an extremely successful and powerful Kingdom.

The Kingdom of Makuria was in a competition for some time with its other powerful rival, Nobatia. However, Makuria was to prove to be the dominant power.  In the 7th century,  Islam burst out of Arabia, and overwhelmed the weakened Byzantine-Roman and Persian forces (the Byzantines and the Persians had been fighting nearly non-stop for about 100 years  in some form or another; there was a short respite of about 10 years; until the usurpations of the Wicked Phocas plunged the empire into war again), conquering the Middle East, Egypt, North Africa. However, an amazing and unprecedented event transpired in Nubia. Islamic armies launched two invasions into Christian Nubia, and were soundly defeated by the armies of the Kingdom of Makuria in the First and Second Battles of Dongola.  The Orthodox Makurian King Qualidurut proved victorious against the advancing Islamic hordes (due in no small part to the unprecedented skill of Makurian archers); the event was shocking to the Islamic (and Christian) world.  An Islamic Arab poet said of the Second Battle of Dongola:

“My eyes ne’er saw another fight like Damqula,
With rushing horses loaded down with coats of mail.”

Certainly it left a lasting impression upon the Islamic world.

King Oualidurut, in 652, forced the Rashidun Caliphate to sign the “Baqt“, a treaty which ensured peace between Islam and Makuria.  The Islamic Caliphate agreed not to attack Makuria if Makuria agreed to maintain peace with the Caliphate. The defeat of Islam and the victory of the Christian Nubians was so stunning that Islam would not attack Makuria for another 700 years.  As a result, Makuria would continue free for centuries.

However, from the Orthodox perspective, things began to go awry. Makuria, being an Orthodox Kingdom, was surrounded by Monophysite neighbours. The pressure of Monophysite missionaries and antagonists was great.  Nobatia, Alodia and Ethiopia were firmly in the Monophysite camp and were constantly pressing the issue.  Eventually, the Orthodox Kingdom absorbed the Monophysite kingdom of Nobatia. This brought into the Orthodox Kingdom an unwelcome religious element. At this point, Monophysite influence was from within rather than from without. Sometime in the middle 700s, King Mercurios of Makuria acquiesced to Monophysite teachings, being called “The New Constantine” by Coptic sources.

The situation of the Orthodox Church in Makuria had gradually become worse before the time of King Mercurios. The Orthodox Patriarchs of Alexandria had been forced to flee their small flocks. There was no Patriarch in Alexandria; as a result, the Makurian Orthodox bishops felt they had no permission to consecrate additional bishops without the permission of the Patriarch. This put Orthodoxy under extreme pressure; no Patriarch meant  no new bishops, which meant there would gradually be no Chrism or even Priests. By the time the Orthodox Patriarch returned to Alexandria, the damage had been done: only one bishop was able to be consecrated for the “Melkite” (i.e. Orthodox) population, a single Metropolitan of Faras. The Orthodox Church with its Metropolitan continued until the 14th century, when it, with the rest of the Christian civilization, disappeared with the re-appearance  of Islamic power and invasions; this time, the Kingdom had fallen into decadence, having abandoned Orthodoxy except for a small minority of Orthodox (i.e., commonly called “Melkites” by the Monophysites). It could not resist Islam any longer; Christianity was violently smashed in Nubia and disappeared.

This was undoubtedly a great loss to Orthodoxy. However, despite this loss, we can learn important lessons. One would be that Orthodoxy was embraced by the black population of Africa (and not just a Monophysite deformation of Christianity).  The second lesson is that a native church that is not primarily dependent upon an exterior Patriarchate’s permission for consecration of bishops is also necessary (i.e., we should avoid keeping local, firmly established missions in their infancy). The third lesson relates to dealing with Islam: notice that Christian Nubia (i.e. Makuria) received the unprecedented 700 years of peace with Islam after they had proved themselves strong and decisive in battle. This included a firm resolve to defend their own borders at all costs, as well as an abdication of any imperial interests in conquering Muslim lands.  It was only possible to achieve this through a policy of “Peace through Strength” as opposed to a policy of “Peace through strength and meddling and invasion, etc”.

On a side note, later medieval Crusaders were always searching for the mysterious “John Prester” who was supposed to be a King and Presbyter.  They never could find this ally, but, it is interesting to note that by the time of the Crusaders, the Makurian Monophysite king was not only consecrated king, but he was supposed to be ordained a priest (contrary to Orthodox practice).  This might give us a clue as to the origin of the legend.

6 thoughts on “Artifacts of Christian Nubia Revealed

  • October 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    As an Oriental Orthodox (Miaphysite) I love my Easter Orthodox brethren. Let us learn from each other in a spirit of love. And with that in mind this might be a good place to start:

    • October 8, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      We do not accept any of these statements, since we believe the former Eastern Orthodox Patriarchates to have fallen into the heresies of ecumenism, modernism, and Sergianism. The True Orthodox (commonly called the ‘traditionalists’ or somewhat less accurately ‘Old Calendarists’) do not believe the anti-Chalcedonians are Orthodox since they reject the Council of Chalcedon; therefore, according to the Apostolic Canons, we cannot pray with those or in any sense be in communion with those who are heterodox, such as the Monophysite church or the fallen Eastern Patriarchates (such as Antioch and Alexandria) which allow the giving of communion to, and in some cases the concelebration with, Monophysites Anti-Chalcedonians.

      • October 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm

        As St. Irenaeus (peacemaker) of Lyons brought those in schism into the Orthodox church do you think it is possible for us who are in schism to be united one day? Of course, not united through warm fuzzy feelings but rather by coming to the right understandig of Orthodoxy.

        • October 8, 2014 at 5:50 pm

          If the Anti-Chalcedonians accept the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and other Orthodox Councils; remove Dioscorous, Severus, etc from their calendar and anathematize them, as well as all saints that were not in communion with the Orthodox Church; anathematize ecumenism, the new calendar, and seek entrance into the True Orthodox Church, then there will be perfect peace. This is not an issue of both the Orthodox be right and the Monophysites being right; the Orthodox are right, and the Anti-Chalcedonian churches are in error on a number of theological and liturgical issues that are of grave importance (for example, the Anti-Chalcedonians uphold the teachings of Severus of Antioch and other heterodox writers, rejecting the 4th, 5th, and 6th Councils; many do not accept belief in Uncreated Graced / Essence distinction; they reject the two Natural Wills of Christ; there is also the important liturgical deviations such as the use of the interpolated Trisagion, the use of unleavened bread and the abolition of the mixed Chalice by the Armenians).
          It is impossible for two sides to be the same Church for 1500 years, with both sides having teachers saying the others were heretics,, etc. Either the Orthodox were and are right or the Anti-Chalcedonian Severian Monophysites are right. I just do not see any other way to be honest to the Scriptures, Canons, Fathers, Saints, Tradition, and Councils other than the above.

          • October 19, 2014 at 8:50 pm

            I think Fr. Peter Farrington is still really ignoring all the issues. The Orthodox honours Chalcedon as an Ecumenical Councils confirmed by miracles (such as that performed by the intercession of St. Euphemia). In essence, Fr. Peter’s argument is basically that everyone really did NOT understand everyone for 1500 years; if that is so, the Church was divided into mutually anathematizing bodies for 1500 years, with different dogmatic terminology and formulation; great and humble saints are implied to just have been so stupid, ignorant or unenlightened by the Holy Ghost to not the know the difference.

            There is, frankly, no way around it. Either the Anti-Chalcedonians were right, and God did not inspire Chalcedon and Our Holy Father Leo, St. Flavian, and many others, and therefore the Anti-Chalcedonian would be the Church (something which they don’t really claim anymore, for example, the policy of the Armenian Church to have ‘open communion, etc), or the ‘Chalcedonians’ (i.e., the True Orthodox) are correct, and the all the Seven Councils and Pan-Orthodox Synods must be accepted as having taught correctly on dogmatic questions and formulations and terminologies; all the Canons for the Seven Councils (and approved Local Councils at Trullo) must be accepted.

            Fr. Peter’s argument can be essentially said to say that the Church didn’t know where the Church was for untold ages. That the Orthodox Church of Alexandria for centuries did not know, despite constant contact, that the Coptic Church was the Church; the same for Antioch and the Syro-Jacobites. If this is the case, then there is no case for trusting anything the Church says, because it would not be guided by the Holy Ghost.

            But, other problem with argument’s like Fr. Peter’s (and others), is that the same line of reason would ultimately say that the Third Ecumenical Council, the Council of Ephesus, could also be ‘revised’ in a similar manner that he Assyrian-Nestorians and others have been trying to say it should. So, then, we’d have only two required councils and could effectively ignore the other 5! however, the Copts don’t wish to go down that road!

            I did study this question years and years ago. I can only say I am convinced that the Orthodox Church is the True Church, and not those who reject the Seven Councils.

            In Christ,

            Fr. Enoch

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