Christian Church Ruins Unearthed in Alexandria May Be Oldest Ever Found in Egypt
An excavation in Egypt has unearthed some ruins that they say is one of the oldest Christian churches ever found in the country. The experts were working on a ruined basilica when they found the remains of an even older church. This find could even be the oldest known Church in Egypt and is likely to offer new insights into the growth of early Christianity in Egypt and elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
The exciting discovery was made by a Polish team of archaeologists and researchers, led by Dr. Krzysztof Babraj, from Kraków’s Museum of Archaeology.
The Polish team has been working there since 2000 and have helped to conserve the vast Christian Church found there. They have previously unearthed a burial chapel at the location, which has one of the largest finds of ceramic fragments yet found in Egypt.
Ancient Port on the Nile
Marea was a busy port-town on Lake Maeortis, now known as Lake Mariout. The ruins surrounding the lake feature in Assassin’s Creed Origins in realistic detail, as shown in the video below.
According to GTP “it served as the port of Alexandria for vessels navigating the Nile”. It was a very wealthy urban community, according to the surviving sources, from the Hellenistic period down to the Byzantine era. The town fell into decline after the Arab conquest of Egypt and was also badly damaged by an earthquake and was later abandoned.
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Basilica Destroyed by Earthquake
The Polish team was working under the floor of the Christian basilica, which was a large place of worship that was based on Roman public buildings
According to the lead researcher, the team ‘“encountered a wall’s remains, which turned out to be the outer walls of an even older church,”
It appears that the later basilica was built on an earlier place of worship, which was destroyed during the earthquake that devastated Marea in the 8 th century AD.
Ancient basilica ruins at Marea (CC by SA 2.0)
Christian Church from 3 rd Century
The larger church dates from about 400 AD to 800 AD. However, according to the First News website, ‘the archaeologists discovered remnants of a church’’ that were even older. This was uncovered in the ruins of what was once the basilica’s nave.
The church’ s outer walls have been identified and it was built in the form of a cross, typical of Christian houses of worship, from ancient times to this day.
When the larger Church was destroyed the older place of worship was completely buried by collapsing masonry and pillars and was lost to history until it was revealed by the research team.
The ruins measure 72 by 45 feet (24 by 15 m). It was decorated with ornately designed polychrome tiles. Sadly, all of the tiles were destroyed during the quake and are in fragments.
The older church had limestone walls that were filled with debris and stones. The team was able to date the building because of the ostraca or ceramic fragments found in the ruins.
According to the First News website, based on a study of these, there is compelling evidence “that the church dates back to the mid-4th Century”. This was not long after the faith had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Basilica ruins at Marea (flickr / Institute for the Study of the Ancient World’s photostream)
The Significance of the Christian Church Finding
The dating may mean that the church is one of the oldest yet found in Egypt. The ruins found in the ancient port on the Lake are therefore of immense historical importance.
Experts are continuing to investigate the site, to learn more about the nature of early churches and this can provide insights into the early Christian community in Egypt.
The oldest Christian Church in Egypt that is still in use is the famous Hanging Church in Cairo, which dates to the 690s AD.
Top image: Christian church ruins discovered in ancient port of Marea, near Alexandria. Source: T. Skrzypiec/pcma.uw.edu.pl
By Ed Whelan