Giant Cross found in Skardu, Pakistan.
“It is indeed great news for all of us that an ancient cross was found in Skardu. It shows that Christianity existed in this area,” said Mansha Noor, executive director of Caritas Pakistan.
A massive ancient cross was discovered in northern Pakistan, indicating the existence of Christians in the region, according to a report at UCANews.com.
The giant marble cross, believed to be up to 1,200 years old, was found by a three-member expedition team from the University of Baltistan, Skardu in the mountain range of Kavardo in Baltistan.
“The huge cross of marble rock weighing 3-4 tons and measuring approximately 7×6 feet has been found some two kilometers from the base camp, high in the mountains of Kavardo, Baltistan, overlooking the Indus River,” the team said in a press release on June 14, 2020. The Cross is most probably from nearby mountains, since the marble used for the cross is found in the surrounding mountains. The front side is finely finished while the back side is rough.
According to the UCANews report, researcher Wajid Bhatti identified the cross as a “Thomanian cross,” and said it was one of the largest crosses discovered on the subcontinent.
Dubbed the “Kavardo Cross,” the finding could represent evidence that Christian communities once lived in the region.
“It is indeed great news for all of us that an ancient cross was found in Skardu. It shows that Christianity existed in this area and there must be a church and houses of Christians. There are currently no Christian families in that area, but they were once present,” said Mansha Noor, executive director of Caritas Pakistan.
It is interesting to note the location of this important discovery. This location is not very far from the Old Silk Road, a network of roads which joined China, Central Asia and the Subcontinent with Persian Empire in the East and Byzantine Empire in Western Asia. By the year 600 Persian Empire in the East included part of Afghanistan and some of present day western part of Baluchistan.
When news of the find was first circulated, Wajid Bhatti, who researches ancient Christian crosses at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, contacted the university and said he recognized it at once. He said similar but smaller crosses had been found further south east in Taxila. The region’s position on Silk Road trading routes could have attracted Christian travellers, he said.
According to tradition, Christianity was established in sub continent in AD 52 with the arrival of Thomas the Apostle in Cranganore, said Dr Elena Ene D-Vasilescu, from Oxford University. But cross symbols were also widespread in the Indus region well beforehand, she said. “As we know, the cross with four equal arms is a symbol of life and order.”
Fr. Gulshan Barkat, a catholic priest in Pakistan, who holds a degree in Church History from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and has done extensive research in the British Library in London shared some views on the possible historical background to Christianity in this area.
Christianity flexed its missionary muscles in Persian Empire in 4th century but the dawn of it brought persecution to Eastern Christians while peace to Western Christians. King Shapur 11(309-379) of Persian Empire started persecution of Christians in his empire in 340’s. There is a possibility that some of Christians and missionaries living on the eastern border of the Persian Empire fled to escape persecution and lived among the peace loving Buddhists of Himalayan and Karakoram valleys, including Kavardo, which after may have become a centre of Christian settlement and evangelization.
He wonders if there was a monastery in Kavardo valley? Is this cross from that monastery? The existence of a monastery can be a possibility since there was a network of missionary monasteries in the Persian Empire and Arabian Peninsula. By the 5th century more than 30% of the population of the Persian Empire was Christian. Herat in present day Afghanistan was raised to metropolitan diocese in or after 585. Therefore one cannot rule out the existence of a monastery in Kavardo.
Were there left remnants of St. Thomas Christians who escaped the onslaught of the Huns? Was there a church built on the mountain and this discovery belongs to it? Was there a Christian cemetery and this cross belongs to it? Are there Christian inscriptions on rocks, walls or in caves around? Christianity walked on and around the Silk Road. The discovery of the cross in Baltistan may open new avenues of academic collaboration and cooperation between researchers and historians.