Posts Tagged ‘King George’

The Churches and Monateries of Medieval Nubia: Part Two – The Cruciform Church, Old Dongola,

June 23, 2013

Old Dongola was first the capital of Makuria and subsequently that of Makuria-Nobatia after the union of the two kingdoms. One of its largest and most important churches was the Cruciform church. This is 45 m long by 40 m in width (148 feet by 131 feet). Although its walls have only partially survived, they have a maximum height of four metres, giving an impression of the fast size of the church in its prime. The central bay was probably 14 m (36 feet) in height. It appears from this that the church was the centre of Makurian religion. It may have been built as a thanksgiving for the safe return of King George from his meeting with the Muslim caliph in Baghdad. It has been excavated by Polish archaeologists, who have been working in that part of Nubia since the UNESCO ‘Save Nubia campaign’ of the 1960s. As its name suggests, the church is shaped like a gigantic cross. This style of church building did not previously exist in Nubia, and provides more evidence for the shift in Nubian Christianity from the Egyptian Coptic Church to that of Byzantine Orthodoxy. It was constructed sometime in the ninth century, and was extensively rebuilt during the 500 years it was in use before its final rebuilding and abandonment in the fourteenth century.

Supporting the roof of the central bay was a series of granite columns with carved capitals. The eastern arm of the church was marked off by some kind of wall, and underneath it were two crypts. The church was constructed on the site of the earlier, seventh century Old Church. This was basilica with a sandstone floor and five sides. The floor of the heikal – the sanctuary – was lined with pebbles. It possessed a baptistery tank decorated with waves, which gave the effect of marbling. This tank was later rebuilt as an oval and decorated with a maltese cross at its centre. The two crypts probably belonged to this earlier church, and were incorporated into the new, cruciform church after the Old Church’s demolition. The layout of the Cruciform Church is shown below. The filled red section indicates the parts of its walls that have survived.

Cruciform Church 3