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What is the history of Christian Nubia?

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  • 1 decade ago
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    During the late antique and medieval period Nubia was divided into three kingdoms, from North to South: Nobadia, which largely corresponds with the modern Lower Nubia, Makouria in the middle, and Alwa in the south. The most powerful state was Makouria with its capital in Old-Dongola. Since the 6/7th century the kings from Dongola predominated also the state of Nobadia. It was governed by an eparch from Makouria with the authority of a viceroy who resided in Faras (ancient Pachoras), the capital at that time of Nobadia. When, in the 13/14th centuries the situation became unstable, due to invading nomads and power struggles among the members of the royal family of Makouria, the eparch of Faras moved to Qasr Ibrim (ancient Primis) and later to Gabal Adda.

    According to the church history of John of Ephesos, the most important source on the early Christian period of Nubia, the Christianisation of Nubia started officially around a decade before the middle of the 6th century (between the years AD 538-546) with the Mission of Julian, send from Constantinople by the Empress Theodora. He was accompanied by Theodoros, the monophysite Bishop of Philae. There were also some earlier conversions arranged by monks settling in Nubia, and some different tradesmen but, apart of a few Christian artefacts and some textual records, they did not leave important traces. After two years Julian returned to C/pel, while Theodoros remained in Nubia until 551. The Mission was successful. The two men succeeded also in baptizing the king of Nobadia. In 569, after an interruption of 18 years bishop Longinos continued the Evangelisation of the country. He stayed six years in Alwa, baptised the king and put also the foundation for the ecclesiastical organisation by consecrating priests. Makouria was the last Nubian kingdom to become Christianised. As all missionaries were representatives of the monophysite belief that was predominant already at that time in Upper Egypt, it is only natural that the Christianized Nubians as well followed the same belief of their missionaries.

    Under these circumstances it is easily understood that the Christian art and architecture of Nubia followed in a broad sense, although not in every detail, the development in Egypt. The early basilicas have - as in Egypt - a western return aisle (not to be found in any other country or province of the Roman Empire), and since the 7th and 8th cent., at least in the region of Faras, there are several examples with a primary triumphal arch at the eastern end of the central nave, slightly in front of the opening of the apse became fashion, as it was the case in the Egyptian basilicas. But there is only one Nubian example, the church of Shaikh Badawy, which shows also the further development of the primary triumphal arch in the form of the khurus, separated from the nave of the church, as an independent spatial unit in front of the apse, as it was introduced during the second half of the 7th century in the Egyptian monastic church architecture. Since bishops from Egypt were the main personalities who brought Egyptian ideas of the design of the churches into Nubia, it seems likely that bishops living at that time and send from Egypt introduced this way of church construction to Faras, which was after them again abandoned. Apparently also in the Nubian monasteries this development did not find a total acceptance.

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