The Daqin Pagoda (大秦塔) is a Buddhist pagoda in Zhouzhi County of Xi'an (formerly Chang'an), Shaanxi Province, located about two kilometres to the west of Louguantai temple. The pagoda has been controversially claimed as a Nestorian Christian church from the Tang Dynasty.
The Daqin Pagoda is first attested in 1064, when the Chinese poet Su Shi visited it and wrote a well-known poem about it, "Daqin Temple". His younger brother Su Zhe also wrote an "echoing" poem referring to the monks at the temple. An earthquake severely damaged the pagoda in 1556 and it was finally abandoned. Due to the earthquake, many of the underground chambers of the complex are no longer reachable.
The seven-storeyed octagonal brick pagoda is about 32 meters high. Each side of the first storey measures 4.3 meters.
Is the pagoda a Nestorian Christian relic?
In 2001 the pagoda was claimed by Martin Palmer, the translator of several popular books on Sinology, including Zhuangzi and I Ching, as a Nestorian Christian church from the Tang Dynasty, in his controversial book The Jesus Sutras. According to Palmer, the church and the monastery were built in 640 by early Nestorian missionaries. Daqin is the name for the Roman Empire in the early Chinese language documents of the 1st and 2nd centuries, by the mid-9th century it was also used to refer to the mission churches of the Syriac Christians.
Supporters of Palmer's claims have drawn attention to details which suggest that the monastery was earlier a Christian church, including a supposed depiction of Jonah at the walls of Nineveh, a nativity scene (depiction of the birth of Jesus) and Syriac graffiti. The east-facing orientation of the complex is also advanced as evidence of its Christian origin since Chinese Daoist and Buddhist temple complexes face north or south.
As a potential stimulus to the district's tourist trade, Palmer's claims have been given wide publicity by the local authorities but have also received approbation by Chinese academics. The exterior of the pagoda and its surroundings were featured in the first episode of the 2009 BBC program "A History of Christianity". The program also featured an interview with Palmer by the presenter Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Despite the publicity they have received, Palmer's claims are controversial, and have been dismissed by Michael Keevak, the author of The Story of a Stele, and by David Wilmshurst, the author of The Martyred Church: A History of the Church of the East.
- Daqin Temple Pagoda at china.org.cn
- Martin Palmer, The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Religion of Taoist Christianity, ISBN 0-7499-2250-8, 2001
- Hill, John E. (2003). "The Kingdom of Da Quin". The Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu (2nd ed.). Retrieved 2008-11-30.
- Jenkins, Philip (2008). The Lost History of Christianity: the Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia - and How It Died. New York: Harper Collins. pp. 64–68. ISBN 978-0-06-147280-0.
- Thompson, Glen L (April 2007). "Christ on the Silk Road: The Evidences of Nestorian Christianity in Ancient China". Touchstone Journal. Retrieved 2008-11-30.
- Keevak, The Story of a Stele, 000; Wilmshurst, The Martyred Church, 461
- Keevak, Michael, The Story of a Stele: China's Nestorian Monument and Its Reception in the West, 1625-1916 (Hong Kong, 2008).
- Palmer, Martin, The Jesus Sutras: Discovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (New York, 2001).
- Wilmshurst, David, The Martyred Church: A History of the Church of the East (London, 2011).