The Nubian Church

Geographically Nubia is defined as the area between the First Cataract of the Nile at Aswan to beyond the Third Cataract. This comprised the three medieval kingdoms of Nobadia in the north, Makouria and Alwa to the south. Nobadia was taken over by Makouria, the latter's capital being Old Dongola, between the mid-seventh and the early eighth centuries. The extensive archaeological work at Old Dongola suggests its cultural hegemony, but as more work is done to the south this assumption may change. Nubia was officially evangelized from Byzantium in the sixth century, through the intervention of the Emperor Justinian and his Miaphysite wife Theodora, and initially pagan and Kushite burial customs coexisted with the Christian. Remaining independent from Muslim rule, the Nubian kingdoms retained their Christian identity until their decline in the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. This independence was based on the twin authorities of the royal courts, with the administration they generated, and the church hierarchy. The latter, under the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Alexandria, comprised thirteen recorded sees, of which the bishoprics of Kurte, Oasr Ibrim, Faras, Sais, and Old Dongola, as well as that probably at Soba East, the capital of Alwa, were the most important. It is not surprising, therefore, that Nubia retained artistic and cultural, including architectural and iconographical, links with Byzantium and Egypt, as well as the Holy Land, with the use of Greek, Coptic and Old Nubian inscriptions and texts, although the distinctively Nubian characteristics should not be underestimated.

The building of the Aswan high dam prompted rescue archaeological work by national and international missions sponsored by UNESCO which led to major discoveries in northern Nubia in the early 1960s. This was followed by archaeological exploration by missions in central and southern Nubia, as well as ongoing work at the site of Oasr Ibrim in the southernmost part of Egypt known as Lower Nubia. Archaeological work is continuing to publish finds from excavations already undertaken, explore unknown sites, as well as to refine the chronology and relationship between the architectural and artistic production of the three kingdoms.

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