Mysterious Ancient Cross Found in Northern Pakistan
Researchers have unearthed a massive ancient cross in a remote mountain area of northern Pakistan. The evidence suggests it is a Christian object from the Middle Ages, but there is also the possibility that it is a Buddhist symbol. It is believed that the cross comes from a time of great religious change in the region in and around what is now Pakistan.
The remarkable discovery was made by researchers from the University of Baltistan in the northeast of Pakistan. Prof. Dr Muhammad Naeem Khan and two of his colleagues were exploring the mountains of Skardu accompanied by local villagers when they made the discovery. They came across a massive ancient cross of similar form to that which has been a symbol of Christianity for centuries. But definitively ascertaining its origin and symbolism is not simple.
The heavy cross is carved from marble. (Pamir Times)
Ancient Cross Weighs Between 3-4 Tons
The huge cross is carved out of marble and weighs between 3-4 tons (2,722-3,629 kg). It is 7 feet high (2.1 meters) and 6 feet (1.8 meters) in width. It was discovered about 1.12 miles (2 km) from the team’s base camp in a spectacular setting that overlooks the Indus River. The team leader is quoted by Herald Malaysia Online as stating that the cross seemed to have descended ‘directly from the heavens.’ The researchers were amazed by their discovery as there are no Christians in this part of Pakistan. Prof Khan is quoted by The Telegraph as saying that ‘villagers told researchers from the university they had always known about the cross, but had never bothered with it and left it where it was because it could not be moved.’
It is believed that the object is between 900 and 1200 years old. The experts have not been able to move it because of its size, and lockdown restrictions means that they have not been able to scientifically examine the cross. Their initial assumptions were that it was a Christian symbol.
The Silk Road Guided Christians Through Pakistan and India
Wajid Bhatti, an expert on Christian crosses at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, contacted the team and told them that he could identify the mysterious object. He is quoted by CBN News as saying that it is ‘a typical Thomonian Cross of India.’ According to Christian tradition, the apostle Thomas brought the gospel to India in 52 AD. There are still Christian minorities in both Pakistan and India numbering in the millions.
'Taxila Cross' in Lahore Cathedral, Pakistan is a famous example of a Thomonian Cross of India. (CC BY 4.0)
Bhatti, according to CBN News, also stated that ‘the cross is one of the biggest ever discovered on the subcontinent’. Smaller crosses that are similar in design have been found in the general region and as far south as Taxila in Punjab, Pakistan. He is quoted by The Telegraph as stating that ‘The region's position on Silk Road trading routes could have attracted Christian travellers’. It is well-known that Christians propagated their faith along the route for centuries and even spread it as far as China. Members of the Nestorian Church were particularly active on the Silk Road.
Persian cross or Thomonian Cross of India in a chapel on St Thomas mount, Chennai, India. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Ancient Cross Adds to Understanding of Medieval Pakistan
Some experts are looking at the Buddhist art references found on the ancient cross. It is possible that the cross was made by Buddhists who had converted to Christianity roughly a millennium ago when Buddhism was in decline.
The basic form of a crossed Buddhist vajra has the same equal-sided proportions as a Thomonian cross. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
This ancient cross could show that Christianity was more widespread than was previously accepted in the medieval history of Pakistan. ‘It shows that Christianity existed in this area and there must be a church and houses of Christians’ according to Mansha Noor, who works for Caritas Pakistan, as reported in the Herald Malaysia Online. This suggests that there could be many more significant artifacts of this religion in this mountainous region.
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Is this Ancient Pakistani Cross a Christian or Buddhist symbol?
Further research is required to determine if the newly discovered ancient cross is a Christian artifact or a Buddhist symbol.
Notably, in the past the Skardu mountain region was a center of Tibetan Buddhism. Dr Elena Ene D-Vasilescu, from Oxford University, is quoted by The Telegraph as stating that ‘As we know, the cross with four equal arms (like the swastika) is a symbol of life and order.” There are many examples of Buddhist crosses in the Indus region that date back many centuries.
The results of future research will help to resolve the mystery of the cross-shaped artifact found in the desolate mountains of Pakistan and determine if it is a Buddhist or a Christian symbol. This is particularly important as it could provide important new insights into the history of religion in the subcontinent.
Top image: A group of locals posing with the ancient cross in Pakistan. Source: Pamir Times
By Ed Whelan