Oldest Christian site discovered in UAE opens to public
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Sections of the monastery never seen before are now on display

The site of a 1,400 year-old Christian monastery on Sir Bani Yas opens to the public on Thursday. Victor Besa / The National 

June 13, 2019

June 13, 2019

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A 1,400 year-old monastery that was the first Christian site discovered in the UAE has reopened to the public.

The site on Sir Bani Yas island, about 200km west of Abu Dhabi city, has been covered by a new shelter, lighting has been installed to allow night tours and new roads built to improve access.

There is also increased signage and more details about life there. Sections of the monastery never seen before are now also on display. These form part of an ancient dormitory and reveal insights into the day-to-day lives of monks who lived and prayed there more than a thousand years ago.

The monks were Nestorians, a branch of Christianity that stretched all the way to China. They would be familiar to us today — praying, wearing robes and living simple lives deep in contemplation.

The site of Sir Bani Yas church and monastery. Victor Besa / The National

It is believed the site was occupied for at least 100 years and was a stop off point for traders and travellers along trade routes between east and west. There are many theories about why the church declined, The spread of Islam also mean many people either converted or left.

But its presence in the region shows that Islam and Christianity managed to coexist and trade peacefully for many years.

“The Sir Bani Yas church and monastery sheds light on our cultural history, one that we can be proud of,” said Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance.

“Its existence is proof of the long-standing values of tolerance and acceptance in our lands.”

The site was first discovered in 1992. A few years later plaster crosses were found proving its existence as a church. Glass and ceramics unearthed show how they traded across the Gulf.

Work at the church and monastery has been going on for years. Only a few years ago most of the site was reburied. But now the new shelter and enhanced visitor experience will shed fresh light on the early Christians who lived in modern-day UAE.

“It is a really very significant site,” said Richard Cuttler, archaeologist at the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi.

Updated: June 13, 2019 03:53 PM



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