Bahrain: remains of a Christian 'monastery' under the ruins of a mosque
The discovery is the result of three years of work by a joint team of local and UK archaeologists. The structure believed to date back to the period between the 6th and 8th centuries, well before the 300-year-old Muslim place of worship. For the Director of Museums and Antiquities, it is a "tangible sign" of the Christian presence, hitherto only handed down orally.
Manama (AsiaNews) - A first "miraculous" fruit of Pope Francis' apostolic trip to the country in early November. The result of painstaking work by a team of experts that, as happened recently on an island in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has led to the discovery of a Christian place of worship in a land with a strong Islamic component that has obscured traces of the past. From every angle, the discovery of an ancient Christian 'monastery' in Bahrain, all the more so when it emerges from the foundations of a ruined mosque, represents a discovery of exceptional character.
A team of archaeologists has discovered what appears most likely to be parts of a Christian monastery, or bishopric, that have emerged under the ruins of an ancient mosque (pictured). The site appears to date from between the 6th and 8th centuries and could provide another important element in shedding light on the Christian [pre-Islamic] heritage of the area and the entire Gulf. For the past three years, explains The National, a joint team of local and UK experts has been excavating under a 300-year-old mosque located within a Muslim cemetery on the island of Muharraq.
Salman Al-Mahari, Director of Museums and Antiquities at the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, emphasises that 'it will be very exciting for the country to discover tangible evidence of a Christian presence' dating back to the first millennium, under 'a mosque that is about 300 years old'.
Towards the end of last year, the same team unearthed ancient Christian relics, including glazed pottery bearing the mark of a small cross and stone artefacts. Before the cross was found, there was no other physical evidence of the passage of Christianity on the island, despite the many historical records and the names of some areas, including a village called Dair, which means 'monastery' in Arabic.
"Christianity," Al-Mahari continued, "is mentioned within our oral tradition, in the memory of the people and in literature. "These are names of places," he added, "that researchers believe belonged to Christianity. We have read about them in historical sources since the 5th century, but we have not found anything tangible before that'. That is why the discovery of the 'monastery' is the 'first physical evidence in the country, these are the first archaeological remains related to this period'.
Earlier this month, an ancient Christian monastery had emerged on the island of Al-Sinniyah, which belongs to the emirate of Umm Al-Quwain (United Arab Emirates) and may date back to the time before the spread of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. In the area stood a church, a refectory, some cisterns for water supply and individual cells used by the religious. In this regard, Monsignor Paolo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (Eau, Oman and Yemen) spoke of a discovery of "objective value" that provides a better understanding of the "Christian monastic presence".