Under the sands of the Emirates… the discovery of a 1400-year-old Christian monastery

On Thursday, officials announced the discovery of an ancient Christian monastery likely to date back to the years before the spread of Islam across the Arabian Peninsula on an island off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, according to the Associated Press.

The monastery, located on Seniya Island, part of the dune emirate of Umm al-Quwain, sheds new light on the history of early Christianity along the shores of the Persian Gulf.

It is the second monastery of its kind to be found in the Emirates, and it dates back to 1,400 years.

The two monasteries were lost to history under the sand over time, and scholars believe that Christians slowly converted to Islam with the increasing spread of the faith in the region.

Today, Christians are still a minority across the greater Middle East, yet Pope Francis will arrive in neighboring Bahrain on Thursday to promote interfaith dialogue with Muslim leaders.

For Timothy Power, associate professor of archeology at UAE University who helped trace the history of the newly discovered monastery, the UAE today is a “melting pot of nations.”

“The fact that something similar was happening here 1,000 years ago is really amazing and this is a story that deserves to be told.”

The monastery is located on Al Seniya Island, which protects the swamps of Khor Al Bayda in Umm Al Quwain, an emirate about 50 kilometers northeast of Dubai along the coast of the Persian Gulf. The island has a series of sandbars sticking out like twisted fingers. Archaeologists discovered the monastery on one of them in the north-east of the island.

Carbon dating of the samples found in the foundations of the monastery dates back to between 534 and 656 AD.

From above, the plan of the monastery on Senaiah Island indicates that early Christian worshipers prayed inside the monastery’s single-aisled chapel. The rooms inside appear to contain a baptismal font, as well as an oven for the sacrificial bread. It is also possible that the nave contained an altar and a winemaking site.

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