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Church of the East in peril: excavations are urgently required to preserve Da Qin, the earliest Christian remains in China. (World Monuments).

In 1998 an accidental find by a Western explorer in Shaanxi Province led to the unearthing of valuable archaeological remains -- the earliest Christian church in China. The Da Qin monastery was built shortly after 650AD, while its associated -- and extant -- eight-storey pagoda was built some 180 years later.

The form of Christianity which developed in Asia in the early seventh century was called the Church of the East. Few structures and almost no art survives from this time in its original sphere of influence, which was along the ancient silk and spice trading routes between Antioch and China. The Da Qin monastery is Central Asia's only existing site from this period.

Besides its architectural remains, the site contains the earliest known Christian sculptures in China, dating from around 800AD -- a unique fusion of Chinese and Christian art forms. Among the artwork preserved within the pagoda is a nativity scene created from mud and plaster.

Both pagoda and monastery were abandoned in 845AD following religious persecution, and it wasn't until 1300 that the pagoda, which was restored two years ago, became a Buddhist temple.

An earthquake in the mid-16th century sealed many of its underground chambers and led to its closure. Today, there are many rooms that have yet to be opened.

Despite the recognised value of the site and the very real danger from looters, no organised excavation, or even repair, is planned.

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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Geographical
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 1, 2001
Words:233
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