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A Byzantine Catholic church, like this one in Athrun, Libya, will be reconstructed in England.

Ikea-style flat-pack church that sunk in a shipwreck around 500 AD to be revived

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Byzantine Emperor Justinian wanted to ensure the domination of the new religion of Christianity so much that he shipped disassembled marble church parts around the empire to have them built in various locales. One of these churches, which has been likened to Ikea-style flat-pack furniture, was raised from the sea floor off the coast of Sicily and will be reconstructed at Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, in the first ever project of its kind.

The museum is preparing an exhibition it calls Storms, War and Shipwrecks for June 2016 that will include the figureheads and battering rams from prows of Roman warships. Scuba diving in the past 60 years has made possible salvaging operations that have brought up treasures from the world’s seas and harbors, says the BBC in an article about the Ashmolean’s exhibition.

The exhibition will also honor the work of Honor Frost, one of the first underwater archaeologists. She lived from 1917 to 2010.

But it was another archaeologist, Gerhard Kapitan of Germany, who in the 1960s raised the wreck containing the church in waters off Sicily’s southeast coast. She and his team got 28 Corinthian-style columns and bases, pieces of a pulpit and choir-screen slabs, the BBC says. Similar churches still stand today in Libya, Cyprus and Italy.

The base of a Corinthian column

The base of a Corinthian column (Photo by Юкатан/Wikimedia Commons)

Emperor Justinian ruled from 482 to 565 AD, a couple of hundred years after Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, which was a precursor to the Byzantine Empire.

Under Justinian, ships were sent to sites in Italy and North Africa with prefabricated church interiors. Some of these ships, apparently overladen, sank in storms after becoming unbalanced.

The idea was to spread Christianity throughout his realm, a practice that Europeans later instituted all over Europe and eventually the New World, extinguishing ancient religions and supplanting them with what the newly baptized former pagans sometimes called a “foreign god.”

A mosaic of Justinian from a church in Ravenna, Italy

A mosaic of Justinian from a church in Ravenna, Italy (Photo by Sailko/ Wikimedia Commons )

Justinian was an iconoclast who fought to stamp out any remaining practice of Greco-Roman paganism and anyone else who opposed Roman Catholicism. Some of the religions Justinian and his cohorts suppressed included:

  • Manicheaism, a blend of Zoroastrian, Christian, Gnostic and Buddhist beliefs that arose in the third century AD and saw the reality of the world as conflicted between the forces of God and Satan, good and evil, light and dark, spirit and matter. The religion of Mani, the founder, at one point stretched from Spain to China. Authorities of religions besides Catholicism, including Zoroastrians and Buddhists, suppressed Manicheaism.
  • Arianism: Arius, born in Libya in 250 AD, was a theologian who taught that Jesus was exalted above all other creatures, but that he was in fact a creature and not of the same substance as God.
  • Monophysites believed Jesus was not both fully God and fully man, a doctrine of the Catholic Church, but rather was of only one nature, either divine or divine-human.
  • The religion of the Samaritans, of whom there are still about 1,000 living in Israel, believe there is one God and Moses was his prophet. Their only book is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible that legend says Moses wrote, and the book of Joshua.
  • Greco-Roman religion: Its adherents believed in a supreme pantheon that controlled various aspects of life, including love, war and human activities such as childbirth, smithing and agriculture. They also believed in localized nature spirits such as nymphs and satyrs. The Greeks and Romans syncretized the beliefs of many peoples they came in contact with. Later, the Christians would syncretize pagan beliefs into their doctrine, feasts and holy places.

Mithras and the sun enjoy a banquet, Roman relief of around 130 AD. Mithras was an ancient Persian god of light and dark whom some Romans absorbed into their religion. Some claim that Mithras inspired some of the beliefs around Jesus.

Mithras and the sun enjoy a banquet, Roman relief of around 130 AD. Mithras was an ancient Persian god of light and dark whom some Romans absorbed into their religion. Some claim that Mithras inspired some of the beliefs around Jesus. (Photo by Carole Raddato/ Wikimedia Commons )

Justinian also had disagreements with his own church in 543 over the doctrine of reincarnation, which he suppressed.

Featured image: A Byzantine Catholic church, like this one in Athrun, Libya, will be reconstructed in England. (Photo by Disdero/ Wikimedia Commons )

By: Mark Miller

 
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