Posts Tagged ‘Arminna West’

Book on Medieval Nubian Literature and Literacy

March 14, 2015

One of the pieces I wrote a few years ago on this blog and which is still being read was an article on the churches and monasteries of medieval Nubia. From the early Middle Ages to the fifteenth century, when the area was finally conquered by Islam, there were a group of three civilisations stretched along the Nile in ancient Nubia. These were literate kingdoms, who appeared to have adopted monophysite Christianity from Coptic Egypt. They built churches, monasteries and palaces, and were in communion with the other Eastern orthodox Christian churches, whose literature they translated into Nubian.

Archaeologists have been studying and attempting to piece together this culture since the 1960s. A number of sites have been excavated, including the ancient capital, Soba, and Arminna West. Four years ago in 2011 the Journal of Juristic Papyrology published a collection of papers on Nubian literature and writings, Nubian Voices: Studies in Nubian Christian Civilisation, by Adam Lajtar, Giovanni Rufini, and J van der Vliet. The blurb for it in the Oxbow Books Catalogue for Egypt, the Near East, Islam and the Middle East, says of it:

This book is a collection of articles dealing with various aspects of medieval Nubian literacy. It contains eleven articles by an international group of scholars, representing different areas of language studies (Greek and Latin epigraphy, Coptology, Old Nubian studies). The articles contain both editions of new textual finds and reconsiderations of well-known sources. The chronology of the texts discussed in the books spans a few hundred years of medieval Nubian history (from the 7th until the 15th century) and their topographical distribution covers a large part of the Middle Nile Valley (from Qasr Ibrim in the north to Banganarti in the south) and beyond (northern Kordofan). The typological variety of the sources, with epitaphs, sepulchral crosses, legal documents, visitors’ inscriptions, and depinti on pottery, provides an insight into the richness of the Christian Nubian civilisation.

At £50, this way beyond my pocket, and I imagine most peoples. Still, you might be able to get it on interlibrary loan, or find a secondhand copy somewhere.

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The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: The Church at Arminna West

June 28, 2013

Dating the Church

It is possible to date the church and suggest when the alterations to it were made by comparing it to other, similar Nubian churches which also underwent similar architectural changes, such as the Buhen Church near Wady Halfa, and the Church on the Mastaba’ and the Cathedral, both at Faras.

The Buhen Church

The Buhen church had experienced extensive reconstruction during the floor had been raised by 60 cm and its piers and walls had been reinforced by further brick walls. New piers composed of rough stone work had also been built in the nave, where they helped to take the weight supported by the existing pillars, the corner of the southwest chamber, the north side of the sanctuary and the area between the north wall and the northwest pillar. This had been done to balance a similar pattern of walls that had earlier been constructed on the south side of the church.

There were also differences between the Buhen Church and that at Arminna West. The nave of the church at Arminna West had included the presbyterium, part of the sanctuary. In the church at Buhen, however, the sanctuary was extended to include part of the nave. It is possible that the Buhen Church may have been built as early as the sixth century or so, as a small painting on wood was found in the fill of the church’s tribune. This was very similar in style to Byzantine art of that century. It is not known, however, when the church was rebuilt.

The Church of the Mastaba, Faras

This church appears to have been constructed in two phases. It originally had square pillars and wide arches. The width of these arches were later reduced and the building made more solid. The pillars on the west side of the church were enlarged on their east and west sides. The east and facing sides of the two pillars in front of the sanctuary were also added to so that they formed a heavy altar screen like that at Arminna West in the final phases of its development. Unlike the church at Arminna West, the altar was moved further east into the apse when the sanctuary expanded into the nave.

Faras Cathedral

The church at Arminna West is closest in its construction and development to the Cathedral at Faras, which underwent two phases of rebuilding according to the Polish archaeologists, who worked on it. It was probably originally built some time around the beginning of the eighth century. It then possessed monolithic granite columns which supported a wooden roof. These were replaced in the tenth century by large brick piers and a vaulted roof. Some time after this, probably in the twelfth century, mud brick walls or screens, on a foundation of debris from older, demolished stone structures, were built between the pillars separating the aisles from the nave. On the north side of the sanctuary the screen were two metres high. They were much higher on the south side, however, to block the greater amount of light that came in from that side. The archaeologists excavating the church believed that the church had been rebuilt due to decay or damage inflicted during raids.

The changes to the fabric of Faras Cathedral may also have been due to general changes in church architecture. In Egypt Ibn Sebba issued a decree commanding all flat roofs to be replaced by vaulted roofs. This change to the structure of the roof also required that the supporting piers should be strengthened. This decree also affected the churches in Nubia. If the other churches were also rebuilt at the same time as Faras Cathedral, then the two phases of rebuilding in the church at Arminna West would also date to the tenth and twelfth centuries. The Coptic stela with its date of 920 suggests that this was also the date of the first phase of the church’s reconstruction.

Comparison with General Nubian Church Types

The church at Arminna West is also similar to a type of Early Nubian church described as Meinarti Type 1c. William Y. Adams, who developed this typology of Nubian churches, considered that the inclusion of part of the nave as well as the apse in the sanctuary indcated that the church had been built in some time in the eighth century. It was unlike the other churches of Meinarti Type 1c in that these had relatively long apses in which the sanctuary was confined. The church at Arminna West, however, had doorways connecting the sanctuary directly with the two sacristies, which did not exist in the other churches of that type. Churches of Meinarti Type 1c also had vaulted roofs. No direct evidence for the type of roof had survived in the church of Arminna West. The brick pillars, on the other hand, suggest that the roof was also composed of brick. If the church was constructed at the date suggest by Adams, then it would have been contemporary with the Early Christian village there and probably the Christian cemetery.

Adams considered that after the church at Arminna West was rebuilt, it was broadly similar to churches of Faras Type 2a construction, though there were also striking differences. The reinforcement of the piers, replacement of the wooden altar screen by one of mudbrick, and the rebuilding of the roof so that it was vaulted rather than flat were all typical of Type 2a churches. Where the church at Arminna West differed from the other churches of this type was in the removal of the door between the north sacristy and the aisle. In the other churches of Type 2a the doors removed were those from the apse to the sacristies. Adams believed that there was a connection between the blocking of the door between the aisle and the north sacristy, and the construction of the room at the north end of the church.

The styhle of church architecture described as Type 2a by Adams lasted from 700 to 1150 AD. Early Nubian churches were decorated with stone carvings, while Classic Christian churches were only decorated with wall paintings. The traces of wall paintings discovered at Arminna West were either in the side chapel or belonged to the later phases of the church’s construction. Bruce Trigger, who excavated the church at Arminna West, believed that the original triumphal arch was replaced by one in red sandstone before the last phase of the church’s rebuilding. He considered that this could have taken place as part of the alterations in the tenth century. It may also have occurred somewhat earlier or later. Trigger was strongly influenced in his dating of the church at Arminna West by Adam’s observations, which he concluded were basically in agreement with his own. He thus believed the church had been constructed in three phases as follows.

Conclusion: The History of the Church at Arminna West

Phase 1.

This was when the church was first built, probably in the eighth century. The church was probably built at the same time the Early Christian settlement at Arminna West it served, was founded.

Phase 2.

This was when the church was rebuilt in the classic Christian style, possibly in the tenth century. By this time the town of Arminna West had become a nucleated settlement – that is, a distinct town, rather than a collection of isolated farms and homesteads – south of the church. There was a cemetery between the church and the river, that was still in use. The church may have been maintained as part of the cemetery and its functions. The altar screens were modified in two phases. It is the church as it was in this phase of its history that it shown in the reconstruction I included in my last blog post. This reconstruction does not show the windows, nor the room built at the western end of the church.

Phase 3:

This was the last phase of the church’s existence. Over a metre of debris was found in the church, probably deposited during the late twelfth century. The church was either used for crude religious purposes, or had been completely abandoned to secular occupation. The Classic Christian village at Arminna West had been abandoned and there were few other indications that the wider area was settled. It is therefore believed that the area was largely deserted. It’s a sad end to a formerly prosperous community and its church.

Source

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Pennsylvania: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967).

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: The Church at Arminna West

June 27, 2013

Construction: Phase I

The church originally consisted of a nave and two flanking aisles. At the east end of the church were the apse (3), and the south and north sacristies (5 and 6). The west end of the church contained the north and south chambers (10 and 12). A door led from the north sacristy out onto the east side of the church. There were two other doors inside the church linking the sacristy with the apse and the vestibule (7). Between the two pillars either side of the altar was a stone base to hold an altar screen. This had two sandstone cubes with a hole cut in them at either end to hold the altar screen’s posts. A stone sill ran between the two stone cubes with two large, square indentations on its west side, probably to take two more posts. Running eastwards from the north pillar on the north side of the sanctuary were traces of another wooden screen. Another sill of burnt brick with a 2.5 cm groove in its centre also ran from this pillar. Two pieces of broken tile had also been set into the floor to take the screen. This sill extended as far as the apse at the eastern end of the church. The screen would thus have blocked the entrance from the sanctuary to the vestibule if it had been solid. The two pieces of tile, however, probably held a gate to allow access to the vestibule. A groove to hold another screen ran from the north pillar to the church’s north wall, thus separating the vestibule from the pulpit in the north aisle (8). There was also a screen on the south side of the sanctuary, running from the south pillar to the wall separating the south sacristy from the south aisle (19). The church’s layout during this phase is shown below:

Arminna Church 1a.jpeg

Phase 2

Some time after its construction the church was damaged and may have been temporarily abandoned. The church was, however, rebuilt and return to use. The main alterations to the church’s structure was the addition of the side chapel (14) to the church’s north side and the construction of the small room at the northeast corner of the church (20). Side chapels are found in many churches, and it has been suggested that it ws built to accommodate an increasing number of female worshippers when the north aisle became too small. The door between the north sacristy and the vestibule was also bricked up and plastered over. The wooden screen in front of the sanctuary was replaced, whilie those on the north and south sides were replaced by sandstone slabs. The screen between the vestibule and the north aisle was removed so that it became part of the north aisle. At the same time the door on the north side of the church that led into the vestibule was blocked. The wall replacing the door between the north sacristy and the former vestibule was only a single course of brickwork thick. It thus formed a niche in the sacristy’s west wall. Stuck into its floor was a piece of broken tile, forming a drain. The drain’s precise function is not known, but it may well have been used by the priests for ritual ablutions.

A buttress was built on to the south wall to balance the opposing buttress on the north wall. This had originally been built to support the screen between the vestibule and north aisle. Tiers of bricks were also added to the southeast corner of the north room and the northeast corner of the south room, which gave them the appearance of crosses. These buttresses may have been added to support changes to the roof, such as the construction of a dome. The floor level inside the church was also raised and a new socket for the door to the north chamber was inserted, this time within the room itself (11). Another door was cut linking the north room with the side chapel. TWo walls, 50 and 80 cm high respectively, were also built across the apse. It is possible that these were built to support the tribunes that were a feature of Classic period Nubian churches. This may have had wooden seats. The walls were placed to allow the doors to the sacristies to remain open, like other tribunes in Qustul, Debeira and the churches in the Faras desert. The Coptic funeral stela found in the inner part of the apse was dated 921, and this is probably the date when the church was rebuilt. The plan of the church during this phase of its development is shown below.

Arminna Church 2b.jpeg.jpeg

Phase 3

The church was rebuilt for a third time, during which the wooden altar screens were replaced with those of heavy brick, stone and rubble. There was an opening 1/2 a metre in width in the centre of each screen. The front screen’s outer corners were recessed and a red sandstone block was found on the north side. This probably formed part of an Arch of Triumph. On the surface sand of the sanctuary was found a carved capital with an intricate scroll motif, again of red sandstone. This had probably been set into the wall.

The plan below shows the church’s layout during this period of its history.

Arminna Church 3a.jpeg

This was the last time it was rebuilt. Some time later it ceased being used for worship. Occupation debris, the remains of a large fire in the north aisle and blockings placed above the former floor level, probably for new door sills as the occcupation debris was in places 75 cm thick, suggest that the church at this time was inhabited by squatters.

A reconstruction of what the church may have looked like is shown below.

Arminna Church Reconstruction 1

Source

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967).

Medieval Nubian Churches and Monasteries: Arminna West

June 26, 2013

Despite its great age, the ground plan of the church at Arminna West had survived almost completely intact except for the south sacristy when it was examined by archaeologists in the three years from 1961 to 1963. The surviving walls were mostly under a meter in height. Nevertheless, the excavators were able to reconstruct much of its original structure and history. A diagram of of the church as it was found by the archaeologists is shown below. South is in the top right hand corner.

Arminna Basic Church 1

The church was originally 11.25 meters long, but the east and west side were both of different widths. The east side was 8.1 meters while the west end was 8.4 meters. The walls were composed of mudbrick. The church had an altar (1), which may have had a wooden top, such as those at Ar-Rammal, the northern church near Adindan and Church on the Mastaba at Faras. In front of this were two mud brick pillars (2). Running between them was the stone base for an altar screen. The sill for another altar screen was found on the north side of the altar. The groove for a third screen ran from the north pillar to the north wall, separating the vestibule from the north aisle. It also had an apse, consisting of two curving brick walls on the east side of the church (3). Flanking this were the south and north sacristies (5 and 6 respectively). The south sacristy was probably a baptistry. It held a sandstone font in its south-east corner. This was rectangular, but with an uneven base. Near its front end it had a stone spout and a hole in the bottom, which was lined with lead. This probably held the pipe that drained the font. The font was originally covered with pink plaster. West of the north sacristy was the vestibule. South of this was the ambo or pulpit (8). There were two chambers either side of the nave (10 and 12), with the socket for a door at the entrance to the northwest chamber (11). The room held steps or a low bench (9). It also held a platform of brick and stone to take a stairway. This would either have led to the roof to a second storey, though this unlikely given the church’s small size. Two small pieces of parchment with the remains of a text in Coptic were found in this room, suggesting that it had been a scriptorium. There was a side chapel on the north side of the church (14). This room had had a barrel-vaulted roof, which, along with its walls, had been covered in paintings. Running along the church’s south and east sides was a low mastaba (15 and 16). This had been cut through for a passage to the south entrance with a stone sill (13). The building also had an annex containing a low bench on its northeast side (17). Only one other room like this to have been found is at the church at Ukma. The low bench suggests it is an extension of the north sacristy, though it is not really known what it was used for. Built on to the church’s west end was another room (18). Like room 17, it is not known what this room was used for, although it is believed that it was used for some purpose associated with the church. Although the walls were cleared, the room itself was not excavated.

The church was basilican in form, but had been gradually modified and altered during the centuries it was in use. The archaeologists excavating the church believed that it had been built in three phases, which will be examined in the next post.

Source

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967)