Christians in the Persian Gulf
Christians reached the shores of the Persian Gulf by the beginning of the fourth century. According to the Chronicle of Seert, Bishop David of Perat d'Maishan was present at the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, around 325, and sailed as far as India. Gregory Bar Hebraeus, Chron. Eccles, 2.10 (v. 3, col. 28) indicates that David had earlier ordained one of the other bishops present at the Council. The monk Jonah is said to have established a monastery in the Persian Gulf "on the shores of the black island" in the middle of the fourth century. A Nestorian bishopric was established at Rev-ardashir, nearly opposite the island of Kharg, in Southern Persia, before the Council of Dadisho in AD 424.
From the fifth century onward the Persian Gulf fell under the jurisdiction of the Assyrian Church of the East. Christian sites have been discovered dating from that time until after the advent of Islam in the region at Failaka, Kharg, Jubail/Jubayl and the nearby settlements of Thaj, al-Hinnah and Jabal Berri, and Sir Bani Yas. A suspected church at Marawah was later shown to be a Neolithic site.
By the fifth century the Bet Qatraye was a major centre for Nestorian Christianity (which had come to dominate the southern shores of the Persian Gulf), with Samahij being the seat of bishops. It was a center of Nestorian Christianity until al-Bahrain adopted Islam in 629 AD. As a sect, the Nestorians were often persecuted as heretics by the Byzantine Empire, but Bahrain was outside the Empire's control offering some safety. The names of several of Muharraq Island’s villages today reflect this Christian legacy, with Al Dair meaning “the monastery” or "the parish."
Remains of a church, dating to perhaps as early as the 5th or 6th century to judge by the crosses that form part of the stucco decoration, were found at Al-Qusur on the island of Failaka. Pottery at the site can be dated from as early as the first half of the 7th century through the 9th century.
In 1993 the Kuwaiti-French expedition found a church in Akkaz (in present Kuwait) dating to the early Abbasid era, the church was in the eastern church style and is symmetrical to that of Failaka.
A number of tombs have been found decorated with distinctive Nestorian crosses. A monastery with a church and nearby homes for married priests have also been excavated. The floral designs in the plaster decoration of the church suggested to the excavator a date in the fifth or sixth centuries AD. Later studies would seem to date the decorations to the end of the sixth century AD.
Jubail and nearby areas
A church, consisting of a walled courtyard and three rooms on the east side was found in 1986. Cross designs were seen to have been impressed into the plaster flanking the doors of the structure. The reporter of the site did not indicate a clear date for it, but suggested that it must have been in existence for two centuries before the advent of Islam. Christian gravestones were also found at the site of Jubail. At Thaj, 90 km to the West, what appears to be a smaller church or chapel, built of reused stones and perhaps dating to the fifth or sixth century, has been discovered. 10 km NNE of Thaj at al-Hinnah there is evidence of a Christian cemetery of ancient but unknown date. a church was identified in the island of Abu 'Ali near Jubayl.
Sir Bani Yas
At Sir Bani Yas, an island off the Western coast of the United Arab Emirates, an extensive monastic and eccelesiastical complex has been found similar to that at Kharg. The church building itself was about 14 m × 4.5 m. As with other sites in the region, plaster crosses were excavated. The excavator suggests a date in the sixth or seventh century for the construction of the church.
Notes and references
- pp. 236 & 292.
- Peter Hellyer, "Nestorian Christianity in Pre-Islamic UAE and Southeastern Arabia", Journal of Social Affairs 18.72 (2001), 79–92, and original text referenced in Bibliotheca Hagiographica Orientalis, 527–530.
- Curtis E. Larsen. Life and Land Use on the Bahrain Islands: The Geoarchaeology of an Ancient Society University Of Chicago Press, 1984.
- Jean Francois Salles, p. 132.
- Vincent Bernard and Jean Francois Salles, "Discovery of a Christian Church at Al-Qusur, Failaka (Kuwait)," Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 21 (1991), 7–21. Vincent Bernard, Olivier Callot and Jean Francois Salles, "L'eglise d'al-Qousour Failaka, Etat de Koweit," Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 2 (1991): 145-181.
- Yves Calvet, "Monuments paléo-chrétiens à Koweit et dans la région du Golfe," Symposium Syriacum , Uppsala University, Department of Asian and African Languages, 11-14 August 1996, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 256 (Rome, 1998), 671–673.
- Ioannou Y., Métral F., Yon M., (dir.), Chypre et la Méditerranée orientale : formations identitaires, perspectives historiques et enjeux contemporains, Actes du colloque tenu à Lyon, Université Lumière-Lyon 2, Université de Chypre, TMO 31, Lyon, Maison de l'Orient méditerranéen, 1997.
- Calvet, 674.
- R. Ghirshman, The Island of Kharg, 2nd edition (Tehran: Iranian Oil Operating Companies, 3rd printing, 1965).
- Marie-Joseph Steve, L'Île de Kharg, Civilisations du Proche-Orient 1 (Neuchatel: Recerches et Publications, 2003), 129–130.
- John A. Langfeldt, "Recently discovered early Christian monuments in Northeastern Arabia", Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 5 (1994), 32–60.
- D.T. Potts, The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity, Vol. II (1990), p. 245.
- D. T. Potts, "Nestorian Crosses from Jabal Berri", Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 5 (1994), 61–65.
- G. R. D. King, "Nestorian monastic settlement on the island of Sir Bani Yas, Abu Dhabi: a preliminary report", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 60.2 (1997), 221–235.
- Sir Bani Yas, Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey. Gives online access to several of the cited publications.