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.

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