A recently discovered site may shed new light on historical research into the Nestorian Church, which is believed to be the earliest Christian movement to spread the Gospel in China.
A niche in a
stone wall with a cross carved above it has now been verified by experts
as a repository for the ashes and bones of Christians.
The experts also
confirmed that this is the earliest Nestorian burial place discovered
so far in China.
The discovery at the Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO
World Heritage site in central Henan province, was made in 2009. Its
verification was announced to the public this week.
dating has yet to be carried out, but it would have been created at some
time during China’s Ming and Tang dynasties of 316-907 AD. It has yet
to be established if it is older than the well known Nestorian Stele, an
inscribed limestone tablet found in Xi’an, Shaanxi, which dates back to
781 AD and is currently considered the most ancient Nestorian artefact.
discovery was made by Jiao Jianhui, a researcher at the Longmen
Grottoes Research Institute. The grottoes contain thousands of Buddhist
and Daoist statues and carvings, But Jiao told ucanews.com that “this is
the first discovery of a religious relic other than that of Buddhism
Jiao recalled the moment when he discovered the site
by chance. “I felt instantly that it was different from other niches
and grottoes,” he said.
“There are many similar niches at the
grottoes, carved with Buddha statues as well as inscriptions to say that
the deceased are buried there. So it is certain that the Nestorian site
was also for burials.” he said.
Originating in the Middle East
in the fifth century AD, the Nestorian Christian Church was initially
recognized by the Tang Emperor Taizong but suppressed by his successors.
Jiao pointed out, the discovery of the site puts a different
perspective on historians’ beliefs about those early days in China.
“Historical records shows Buddhist suppression of the Nestorian Church
in the Tang Dynasty,” he said. “But the niche shows some religious
tolerance, as the two religions could coexist harmoniously at the
Now known as the Assyrian Church of the East, the
Nestorian Church was regarded by the Catholic Church as schismatic. But
in 1994, the two Churches signed a common declaration of doctrine.