Pre-Islamic Christian site uncovered in United Arab Emirates

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Monday 10, January 2011 | Category:  

The archaeological remains of an ancient Nestorian Christian monastery and church on Sri Bani Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates have been opened for public viewing, providing an important glimpse into the pre-Islamic history of the region.

The site was unearthed in the early 1990s and is believed to be the only permanent settlement ever established on the island, which is 160 miles southwest of Abu Dhabi. The complex includes monks’ cells, kitchens, and animal pens surrounding a courtyard dominated by a church. At least eight houses have been unearthed. The monastery is thought to have been an important destination for pilgrims traveling along a trade route to India.

TOURISTS visiting the excavation site of the monastery
on Sir Bani Yas Island off Abu Dhabi.
"Twenty years ago, we had no idea that Christians came this far south and east in the Arabian Gulf," said Dr. Joseph Elders, the archaeological director of the excavation project. “This shows that Christianity had penetrated far further than we thought before. . . . We don't have many monasteries from this period."

Christianity spread throughout the Persian Gulf between 50 and 350 A.D. The inhabitants of the settlement were probably part of the Nestorian Church, also known as the Church of the East. Nestorianism denied Mary the title of “Theotokos” or “Mother of God” and was considered heretical by the early orthodox Christian Church because of differences between the two groups regarding beliefs about the true nature of the person of Jesus Christ.

A mixture of people from along the Gulf and local residents who spoke Syriac and Arabic made up the community on Sri Bani Yas. Artifacts at the site suggest the monks had ties to the regions of modern-day Iraq, India, and Bahrain.

The settlement appears to have been peacefully abandoned in about 750 A.D. The spread of Islamic influence probably diminished the monks’ ability to find new recruits, Archaeology Daily suggests.

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