The idea that Christianity arrived in Africa only due to Western colonization is a misperception. In fact, Christianity has deep roots in Africa, dating back to the 1st Century AD. In the northern part of Africa, Christianity was already a well-established religion by the 3rd Century AD, with several Christian communities and monasteries. The latest evidence supporting this historical truth has been discovered in the medieval city of Old Dongola, the capital of the once-thriving kingdom of Makuria.
Old Dongola, nestled on the eastern bank of the Nile River in present-day Sudan, was a prosperous Christian city that flourished from the 6th to the 14th centuries. This bustling city was renowned for its opulent architecture, prominent churches, formidable fortresses, and a culture steeped in Christian art and theology.
Recent archaeological excavations have unearthed remarkable Nubian Christian murals depicting local rulers, Christ, the Archangel Michael, and the Virgin Mary. These unique pictorial narratives bear testament to the deeply entrenched Christian culture that flourished in the region.
The Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology reports that the unearthed images, unlike typical Nubian representations, portray an unusual scene of a Nubian king bowing to Christ, who is seated in the clouds, and kissing his hand. The king is supported by the Archangel Michael, whose wings shield both the king and Christ himself. This extraordinary representation of intimacy and dynamism starkly contrasts with the rigid nature of figures usually depicted in Nubian art. The figure of the Virgin Mary, too, stands out from the standard repertoire of her depictions in Nubian art.
These significant findings illuminate the rich cultural and religious landscape of the Makurian kingdom, reflecting its unique blending of local and Christian traditions. Makuria, with Old Dongola at its heart, remained a formidable Christian bulwark, staving off the expansion of Muslim powers from the north for several centuries.
However, the kingdom began to wane under various pressures, including economic and political strains, as well as the increasing encroachment of Arab powers. By the 14th century, Old Dongola was largely abandoned and fell into decay.
Presently, Old Dongola’s archaeological remnants serve as portals to its illustrious past. The ruins of churches, fortresses, and dwellings echo the city’s former grandeur, while ongoing excavations continue to reveal artifacts that shed light on the vibrant civilization that once thrived there. This ancient city and its unique Christian art are striking evidence of Christianity’s deep roots in Africa and offer a rich testimony to the historical truth of Africa’s Christian heritage.
This recent discovery in Old Dongola is an important step in recentering the narrative of African Christianity, reminding us of the significant role Africa has played in the development and spread of Christianity. African Christianity is not a product of recent Western missions, but a rich and vibrant tradition with deep historical roots, as these extraordinary Nubian Christian paintings testify.