Cathedrals of Christian Nubia

Introduction

Churches in Old-fashioned Nubia have attracted several archaeological and architectural interest for many years. However, it was until 1960s that much research was undertaken on these Christian sites. Many of these buildings were extraordinary structures with masonry piers, stone columns and brick vaults. One of the most outstanding among these works includes the episcopal cathedrals within Faras, Qasr Ibrim and the Old Dongola as well as the cathedral located at Gebel Adda. The inside these churches were usually decorated with wall paintings that were brightly colored hence achieving artistic expression of the highest order. Among the well-preserved paintings in these cathedrals include the ones discovered at Faras which were reasonably incredible. It is indicated that the buildings became abandoned after they got filled with sand in glory days of Nubian Christianity. This paper aims to comprehensively depict the architecture and art of the Nubia cathedrals in a detailed manner.


Cathedrals of Christian Nubia

The repeated efforts of international campaign of UNESCO and Polish archaeologists have led to the revealing of Nubian cultural and Art artifacts originating from the Christian period (Mid 6th -14th centuries).[1] This team worked under the direction of Kazimierz Michalowski within the ancient city of Faras next to the present-day Egyptian-Sudanese border. Ruins of well-preserved of 8th-century of the cathedral church were discovered. This discovery of Cathedral ancient architecture has been hailed as the miracle of Faras whereby the walls are decorated with magnificent mural paintings comprising of religious themes. More than one hundred and twenty paintings are preserved and the Warsaw National Museum consists of 67 collections of this paintings.[2] This collection of art and architecture is accompanied by several findings from Faras and together they form one of the largest and prized archaeological artifacts collection that have ever been acquired by the Polish Museum.

The significance of the archaological discoveries within the Nubian territory during the first half of the 60s and the unique interest among the mass media in the project has led to the development of a new discipline in science known as Nubiology.[3] This is a clear differentiation from the Egytological studies since the have a considerable assistance from the Nubian studies that were found in 1872.[4] From the Nubian, the most outstanding discovery includes the wall paintings in the Cathedral located in Faras by the Polish mission who were headed by Michafowski.[5] These paintings and records are concerns with the Pachoras bischopric and since then have become the most intriguing materials, they literally put Nubia Christian within the map of the Byzantine oikumene. Today, Nubia is a permanent element of work that is carried in different research studies in relation to Byzantine and early Christians investigations. However, some hindering factor of studies related to Nubia architecture and arts includes lack of a methodology in publications. The excavations during 60s were usually published as preliminary reports including from the Sudan in Kush, Egypt and other periodicals institutions that were undertaking research such as BIFAO, JEA and JARCE.[6] Currently, there is lack of conclusive reports in relation to the excavations in sites like Faras, Qasr Ibrim and Gebel Adda that consist of a major hindrance.

Based on the Cathedrals of Christian Nubia, burial customs and homogenous pottery, they developed military and civil architectures. Their buildings were based on stones (granite and limestone and baked bricks and mud-bricks.[7] The religious architecture becomes one of the most unique features in the Nobadian art. Contrary to the suggestions of Michabwski, many ancient researchers indicate that there were no religious before the state of Nobadia underwent Christianization. Presumably, the earlier churches were erected within the centers of Qasr and Faras. In the 6th century, Faras saw different construction of several churches with homogeneous exterior forms and nearly indistinguishable interior designs. These churches include Northern and Southern churches within Faras, Serre East churches, River church located in Adindan and others.[8] All the churches comprise of the bottom region of the walls constructed from broken stones while bricks are utilized on the upper regions. They employ a basilican model of an elongated dimensions and wider nave that is separated by triumphal arch from the presbytery. The altar with the apse is connected with side rooms. At the western end, there are tripartite housing staircases that lead to the gallery.[9] The vaults of the nave use massive pillars for support. There exists two entrances that lead to the church from the south and the north and both are located within the western end. Furthermore, columned basilicas were also erected.

The first cathedrals were built at Faras, the old church at Qasr Ibrim and Qasr el Wizz church. The foundations of the cathedral at Pachoras comprise of narthexes that lead to the church with a nave broader than the aisles.[10] The altar with the apse was parted by using triumphal arch from the rest of the other church. Sacristies were accessed through the side aisles, an entrance to the basilica was on the main axis on the western wall based on the northern and southern walls of the narthex. These cathedral were constructed using dressed blocks of sandstone similar to Qasr Ibrim church. It is evident that the basilican churches were the most dominant form in the early period of Nobadia.[11]

The architectural elements originate mostly from Qasr Ibrim and Faras and they include capitals, columns, door jambs and lintels and also friezes that were made of sandstone hence depicting the skills of the stonecutters. For decoration, a combination of new Christian and local traditions are demonstrated.[12] These architectural decorations exhibit numerous similarities in form, style and composition with decoration originating in Thebaid, more especially from workshops at Philae, Asna and Luxor.

In Dongola, the buildings of this period are significant since the depict the Nubian architecture designs and symbolize the Nubians`s Kingdom. They include the Commermorative Building-Cruciform and Throne Hall. The Throne hall is argued to have survived for a long time but it was converted into a caravanseray and a Mosque and underwent further changes especially due the damages of 13th century.[13] However, original appearances on the storey and ground-floor were preserved. The structure was rectangular with the eastern façade having a projecting apse. Infrequency in Nubai constructed on a rock distinction to the east of the fortress. In the western wall, a main entrance existence that led up to the monumental staircase giving an access to the first-floor as well as a terrace on complex`s roof. A square room was located in the first-floor measuring 7.20 metres and the middle of the eastern wall comprised of a shallow niche.[14] Four granite pillars supported the wooden ceiling and some preserved beams permitted the rebuilding of a four-sided coffered ceiling. Three-layered paintings were located on the walls that were then covered by plain plaster while the structure was used as a mosque. A frieze crowning fragment of the walls is what have been well-maintained of the original wall. A corridor surrounded the main room and was open on the south and north to the outside and on the east it was linked to the apse hence people argue that this section might have been used as a chapel. Within the west, corner rooms similar to vestibule-waiting rooms and a staircase was also present that led to the higher terrace to the roof.

Several paintings of 14th and 13th century emerging from different churches are preserved in large cities such as Gebel Adda and Faras.[15] The quality of these paintings varies considerably and it is hard to be precise about the Nubia styles. However, late and early designs especially in the age of inflexible attention to detail and decorativeness seem similar. Furthermore, there is little freedom in regard to the paintings since they seem schematic and imitative.[16] Nonetheless, they depict local Nubian as well as the tradition and tastes of the secular community. This explains why there is a popularity of outstanding church officials on portraits. Undoubtedly, Faras remains the most significant center for Nubian paintings with all masterpieces from cathedral dated painting to late periods that demonstrate an outstanding artistic quality when compared to other paintings preserved within Abd el Gadir or Kulubnarti. While most of the paintings have a local character or Nubian, it is possible to come across as surprising as Christ`s head from fragmentarily well-kept constitutes.[17] These paintings are fully of color and freshness and provide a proof of high-spiritedness of the Nubain workshops of paintings. The themes depicted in this art is similar to those fixed in the Nubia`s iconography. Other arts represent saints on horsebacks and exceedingly artificial Christ`s representations in glory using four apocalyptical beings. Based on the cathedral paintings, it could seem that decoration of the church occurred in a short time. For instance, the eparch was painted over an existing representation hence one can argue that at least the church underwent two stages of decoration.[18] These two stages are likely to correspond to two building phases of the cathedral.

Paintings of the classical period have been preserved within Paulos Cathedral within Parachoras. However, paintings with similar stylistics features were also found in Naga ee Shaima, Southern Slopes of Faras church and Wadi es Sebua churches.[19] Faras cathedral paintings stand out from the rest. They depict Faras cathedral murals which is a portrait of Bishop Kyros conserved within the Khartoum National Museum. This is an exceptional portrait among others that display church dignitaries found in the cathedral. The portrait depicts the bishop standing with almost white robes that contrast with swarthy skin of the hands and face hence making him a monumental figure. Colors including tones of brown and green bring out a book held on the left hand. Other paintings from the cathedral most probably date to episcopacy of Kyros (the procession of Nubian on a cross, Queen Representation on the crown, deacon representation and St. John Chrysostomos).[20] The Faras paintings devoted space for representing St. John Chrysostomos hence some influence of Syro-Palestinian can be detected in it. A change in style can be noted at Faras during the second half of ninth century. This corresponds to chronological appearances of Dongola`s new buildings that are sculpted on Byzantine designs. The queen portrait`s has non-Nubian characteristics hence gaining a special meaning. Even though foreign marriage are not depicted in the Nubian Kingdom, it is suggested that during this time and the historic conditions, the woman within the painting on cathedral in Faras was Georgios`s wife who was the Nubian prince and he had traveled in 835 to Baghdad.

The archaeological remnants of the Nubian churches suggest that there existed organized secular authority and religion as separate but interacting entities needing protection of one another.[21] Under their integral umbrella, the society of the middle Nile created commercial activities to a big extent and became one of the most urbanized regions in the northern part in the earlier periods. Excavations have indicated that early Christians period demonstrated an amazing continuity from the X-Group with several house remaining in use and other industrial activities such as wood-working and weaving continuing on large scales.[22] The transformation of Meroitic temples into churches and the construction of a cathedral as well as the monastery process of Christianization in the classical age have lasted for a long period. These cities seemed to have become religious hence pilgrimage centres whereby most of the housing facilities were being cleared to offer large plaza in order to accommodate large numbers of visitors.[23]


Conclusion

One of the most important discoveries in Faras from the Christian period includes the rock chapel and city`s cathedral originating from the Nubian Christian period. This cathedral comprise of wall adorned with paintings that are biblical narratives in sophisticated details and also portraits of famous leaders and citizens. These Byzantine-Coptic style paintings are done in tempera on dried plaster. The paintings depict Nubian Christian art including well-known scenes of the bibles and several portraits related to bishops and monarchs of Faras. In general, the earliest Nubia churches were built based on Egypt`s Christian basilicas with 3 to 5 aisles. Presumably, due to technical reasons, the western return aisle was abandoned. In the Nubia, the nave underwent further shortening and colonnades located on both sides reduced to two pillars (Oblong).

The figures below depicts different paintings in Nubian Cathedral

Figure 1: Basilica of Qasr Ibrim

[24]

Figure 2: Faras fresco of cathedral

[25]

Figure 3: Faras Frieze with birds from First Cathedral 

[26]

Figure 4: Archangel Mud Plaster Tempera

[27]

Figure 5: Virgin Mary with a child

[28]

Figure 6: Bishop Petros with St. Peter

[29]

Figure 7: Bishop Marianos, Virgin Mary and Christ

[30]


Bibliography

Bokova, Irina. Artifacts of Christian Nubia Revealed. October 3, 2014. http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-09012014/article/artifacts-of-christian-nubia-revealed (accessed March 12, 2015).

Breidlid, Anders, Avelino Androga Said, Astrid Kristine Breidlid, Anne Farren, and Yosa H. Wawa. 2014. A concise history of South Sudan. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers.

Clammer, Paul. 2009. Sudan. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

Godlewski, Wlodzimierz. Christian Nubia – After The Nubian Campaign. 2014. http://www.sudan-embassy.co.uk/index.php/component/content/article?id=38:christian-nubia-after-the-nubian-campaign (accessed March 12, 2015).

Grossmann, Peter. Christian Nubia and its churches. 2011. http://www.numibia.net/nubia/christian.htm (accessed March 12, 2015).

Ibbotson, Sophie, Max Lovell-Hoare, and Paul Clammer. 2012. Sudan. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

James, Liz. 2010. A Companion to Byzantium. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. http://www.123library.org/book_details/?id=28658.

Parry, Kenneth. 2010. The Blackwell companion to Eastern Christianity. Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell.

Syta, Olga, Karol Rozum, Marta Choińska, Dobrochna Zielińska, Grażyna Zofia Żukowska, Agnieszka Kijowska, and Barbara Wagner. “Analytical procedure for characterization of medieval wall-paintings by X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and Raman spectroscopy.” Spectrochimica Acta Part B: Atomic Spectroscopy 101 (2014): 140-148.

[1] Ibbotson, Sophie, Max Lovell-Hoare, and Paul Clammer. 2012. Sudan. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

[2] Clammer, Paul. 2009. Sudan. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

[3] Godlewski, Wlodzimierz. Christian Nubia – After The Nubian Campaign. 2014. http://www.sudan-embassy.co.uk/index.php/component/content/article?id=38:christian-nubia-after-the-nubian-campaign

[4] Parry, Kenneth. 2010. The Blackwell companion to Eastern Christianity. Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell.

[5] Godlewski, Wlodzimierz. Christian Nubia – After The Nubian Campaign. 2014. http://www.sudan-embassy.co.uk/index.php/component/content/article?id=38:christian-nubia-after-the-nubian-campaign

[6] Breidlid, Anders, Avelino Androga Said, Astrid Kristine Breidlid, Anne Farren, and Yosa H. Wawa. 2014. A concise history of South Sudan. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers.

[7] James, Liz. 2010. A Companion to Byzantium. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. http://www.123library.org/book_details/?id=28658.

[8] Ibbotson, Sophie, Max Lovell-Hoare, and Paul Clammer. 2012. Sudan. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

[9] Clammer, Paul. 2009. Sudan. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

[10] Godlewski, Wlodzimierz. Christian Nubia – After The Nubian Campaign. 2014. http://www.sudan-embassy.co.uk/index.php/component/content/article?id=38:christian-nubia-after-the-nubian-campaign

[11] Ibbotson, Sophie, Max Lovell-Hoare, and Paul Clammer. 2012. Sudan. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

[12] Parry, Kenneth. 2010. The Blackwell companion to Eastern Christianity. Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell.

[13] Breidlid, Anders, Avelino Androga Said, Astrid Kristine Breidlid, Anne Farren, and Yosa H. Wawa. 2014. A concise history of South Sudan. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers.

[14] James, Liz. 2010. A Companion to Byzantium. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. http://www.123library.org/book_details/?id=28658.

[15] James, Liz. 2010. A Companion to Byzantium. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. http://www.123library.org/book_details/?id=28658.

[16] Godlewski, Wlodzimierz. Christian Nubia – After The Nubian Campaign. 2014. http://www.sudan-embassy.co.uk/index.php/component/content/article?id=38:christian-nubia-after-the-nubian-campaign

[17] Breidlid, Anders, Avelino Androga Said, Astrid Kristine Breidlid, Anne Farren, and Yosa H. Wawa. 2014. A concise history of South Sudan. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers.

[18] Clammer, Paul. 2009. Sudan. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

[19] Breidlid, Anders, Avelino Androga Said, Astrid Kristine Breidlid, Anne Farren, and Yosa H. Wawa. 2014. A concise history of South Sudan. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers.

[20] James, Liz. 2010. A Companion to Byzantium. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. http://www.123library.org/book_details/?id=28658.

[21] Godlewski, Wlodzimierz. Christian Nubia – After The Nubian Campaign. 2014. http://www.sudan-embassy.co.uk/index.php/component/content/article?id=38:christian-nubia-after-the-nubian-campaign

[22] Ibbotson, Sophie, Max Lovell-Hoare, and Paul Clammer. 2012. Sudan. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

[23] Parry, Kenneth. 2010. The Blackwell companion to Eastern Christianity. Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell.

[24] Grossmann, Peter. Christian Nubia and its churches. 2011. http://www.numibia.net/nubia/christian.htm

[25] Bokova, Irina. Artifacts of Christian Nubia Revealed. October 3, 2014. http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-09012014/article/artifacts-of-christian-nubia-revealed

[26] Bokova, Irina. Artifacts of Christian Nubia Revealed. October 3, 2014. http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-09012014/article/artifacts-of-christian-nubia-revealed

[27] Bokova, Irina. Artifacts of Christian Nubia Revealed. October 3, 2014. http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-09012014/article/artifacts-of-christian-nubia-revealed

[28] Syta, Olga, Karol Rozum, Marta Choińska, Dobrochna Zielińska, Grażyna Zofia Żukowska, Agnieszka Kijowska, and Barbara Wagner. “Analytical procedure for characterization of medieval wall-paintings by X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and Raman spectroscopy.” Spectrochimica Acta Part B: Atomic Spectroscopy 101 (2014): 140-148.

[29] Bokova, Irina. Artifacts of Christian Nubia Revealed. October 3, 2014. http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-09012014/article/artifacts-of-christian-nubia-revealed

[30] Syta, Olga, Karol Rozum, Marta Choińska, Dobrochna Zielińska, Grażyna Zofia Żukowska, Agnieszka Kijowska, and Barbara Wagner. “Analytical procedure for characterization of medieval wall-paintings by X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and Raman spectroscopy.” Spectrochimica Acta Part B: Atomic Spectroscopy 101 (2014): 140-148.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: