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In Photos: Gazing into a Medieval Church

Medieval Church

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

Scientists have detailed discoveries in a series of medieval churches, including at Banganarti, located in what is now central Sudan along the Nile River. The site was once part of Makuria, a Christian kingdom ruled by a dynasty of kings throughout the Middle Ages. Shown here, a 3-D reconstruction of the lower church at Banganarti, built about 1,300 years ago. Three centuries later the upper church would be built on top of it.

Banganarti Lower Church

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

A sketch showing what the lower church would have looked like.

Dedicated to an Archangel

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

Pottery stamps, marked with monograms dedicated to the archangel Raphael, indicate that he was also the patron of the lower church.

Prayer to Raphael

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

In addition to the monograms of Raphael, a prayer to the archangel, written by a King Zacharias, was found inscribed in the ruins near Banganarti.

Harrowing of Hell

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

This depiction of the Harrowing of Hell, drawn in the ninth century, is considered to be the "masterpiece" of the lower church artwork. It depicts Jesus entering the underworld so that he can trample Hades and rescue the first born. The figures below, in torment, are known as the "common dead."

Deathly Anguish

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

The common dead are shown in agony in this medieval artwork. The emotion they display, and the fact that they, along with the first born, are naked, suggest that this painting may have had a European artist.

A Female Demon

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

Another image found in the lower church is that of the female demon Sideros, shown bound and naked, being trampled on by St. Abbakyros, a medical saint. In medieval mythology Sideros is said to prey on pregnant mothers and newborn children.

Ghost of a Saint

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

A drawing of an image found in the lower church that depicts St. Mercurius spearing the Roman emperor Julian "The Apostate" in A.D. 362. Mercurius had died a century before this event was said to have happened so it was presumably his ghost who did the deed.

Banganarti Drawing

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

Scholars are not certain what this drawing from the Lower Church depicts. It would have been created nearly 1,300 years ago when the church was first built.

Mysterious Saint

Banganarti Lower Church

(Image credit: Bogdan Zurawski)

Although badly damaged it can be made out that this image is of an unidentified saint.