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Ancient Christian paintings discovered in medieval African churches



Daniel Esparza - published on 05/21/23

In Old Dongola, archaeologists have recently discovered unique Nubian Christian paintings depicting local kings, Christ, the Archangel Michael, and the Virgin Mary.

Old Dongola, also known as Dongola, was an ancient city located in present-day Sudan, situated on the eastern bank of the Nile River. It served as the capital of the medieval kingdom of Makuria, a Christian kingdom that thrived from the 6th to the 14th centuries.

At its peak, Old Dongola was a bustling city with a rich cultural and historical heritage. It was a main center of tradeand a hub for religious and intellectual activities. The city boasted magnificent churches, impressive fortifications, and grand palaces, showcasing the architectural prowess of its time.

In some of these old buildings, archaeologists have recently discovered unique Nubian Christian paintings depicting local kings, Christ, the Archangel Michael, and the Virgin Mary.

As read in the article published by Science In Poland, “archaeologists Dr. Lorenzo de Lellis and Dr. Maciej Wyżgoł unexpectedly stumbled upon a complex of rooms made of sun-dried brick, the interiors of which were covered with figural scenes unique for Christian art […] Beneath the floor of one of the houses was an opening leading to a small chamber, the walls of which were decorated with unique representations.”

The famed throne room was once a church in Old Dongola, the capital of the Nubian Christian kingdom of Makuria between the 4th and 14th century

In a press release, the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology explained that the discovered images

“showed the Mother of God, Christ, as well as a scene depicting a Nubian king, Christ, and Archangel Michael. However, this was not a typical representation of a Nubian ruler under the protection of saints or archangels […] The king bows to Christ, who is seated in the clouds, and kisses his hand. The ruler is supported by Archangel Michael, whose spread wings shield both the king and Christ himself […] Such a scene finds no parallels in Nubian painting. The dynamism and intimacy of the representation contrasts with the hieratic nature of the figures shown on the side walls. Neither does the figure of the Virgin Mary on the north wall of the chamber belong to the typical repertoire of depictions of Mary in Nubian art.”

The kingdom of Makuria

The kingdom of Makuria, with Old Dongola as its capital, stood as a powerful Christian stronghold, resisting the expansion of Muslim powers to the north. The city’s strategic location on the Nile allowed it to control important trade routes, contributing to its prosperity and influence. It is only natural, then, that these unique works of art were rather abundant.

Over time, however, the kingdom of Makuria began to decline due to various factors, including economic and political challenges, as well as the encroachment of Arab powers. By the 14th century, Old Dongola had fallen into ruin, abandoned and forgotten.

Today, the archaeological remains of Old Dongola offer glimpses into its glorious past – as these discoveries prove. Ruins of churches, fortresses, and dwellings stand as testaments to the city’s former grandeur, while excavations continue to uncover artifacts that shed light on the vibrant civilization that once thrived there. Old Dongola serves as a captivating window into the history of Christian medieval Africa and the cultural interchange that took place along the Nile River.

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