Archaeologists Find Last Fragment of Early Christian Christogram in Bishop’s Basilica in Bulgaria’s Sandanski
Archaeologists excavating the so called Bishop’s Basilica of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Parthicopolis located in the town of Sandanski in Southwest Bulgaria have discovered the last fragment from a marble slab with a christogram, a Christian symbol consisting of a monogram of letters standing for the name of Jesus Christ.
The “monogram of Christ”, also known as the “seal of God” and Chi Rho after the respective Greek letters, which has now been put together by the archaeologists from the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology, has been discovered piece by piece over the last 25 years, reports the Bulgarian National Television.
The christogram from the Bishop’s Basilica in Sandanski I, which has not been fully assembled, is dated to the 6th century AD.
“This is a christogram, from the Greek letters Chi Rho which stands for Jesus Christ. It also features the Greek letters alpha and omega which also appear in the central part of the christogram. It is decorated with geometric elements, and has a large diameter of over 55 cm. It was used as a decoration,” explains Vladimir Petkov, Director of the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology.
He points out that the monogram of Christ is a permanent motif in Christian art, and that the christogram pieced together in Sandanski was used as a decoration of a newly unearthed space which was either the scriptorium (a room for the writing and copying of books in medieval monasteries), or the ancient library at the Bishop’s Basilica in the Roman and Byzantine city of Parthicopolis.
What is additionally interesting about the Sandanski christogram is that there is a donor’s inscription engraved on the same marble slab below it.
“These are two small pages in which “God’s servant” Anthim mentions that he built this beautiful and magnificent building, and compares it to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem,” Petkov says.
The archaeological excavations in Bulgaria’s Sandanski have yielded a number of other Early Christian finds over the years. For example, in March 2015, the local archaeologists announced the discovery of a large bronze cross for church procession from the 5th century AD.
Parthicopolis was an Ancient Roman city located in the Roman province of Macedonia; its ruins can be found in the downtown of today’s Sandanski in Southwestern Bulgaria. It is known to have been an important center of early Christianity, having been located just some 100 km away from the Ancient Greek town of Philippi where Apostle Paul established the first Christian community in Europe. A testimony for the significance of Parthicopolis as an Early Christian center is the fact that it was mentioned during the Nicaea Council. The town of Parthicopolis was destroyed in barbarian invasions, possibly by the Slavs who tried to capture Thessaloniki in the second half of the 6th century.
The Bishop’s Basilica is the largest of four ancient basilicas found in Parthicopolis, today’s Sandanski in Southwestern Bulgaria. It consists of an entire complex of early Christian buildings, and was the seat of a bishopric in the late Antiquity. It was first discovered in 1989 by Vladimir Petkov, then and current director of the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology, and has been excavated ever since. Towering at 16 m and with a length of 30 m and width of 22 m, the basilica is unique for its Early Christian mosaics and murals, including depictions of fish and birds.
The Bishop’s Basilica must not be confused with Bishop John’s Basilica, which is also one of the four ancient basilicas in Parthicopolis in today’s Sandanski in Southwestern Bulgaria. It is especially known for a mosaic inscription found in the center of its narthex stating that it was built by a “Bishop John”; hence, it has also become famous as Bishop John’s Basilica. In 2013, the Sandanski Municipality started the partial restoration of the two basilicas, the Bishop’s Basilica and Bishop John’s Basilica, and the Early Christian complex in Parthicopolis with an EU grant of BGN 6.1 million (app. EUR 3.1 million) under Operational Program “Regional Development”. The basilicas and the adjacent buildings were destroyed by arson during barbarian invasions, possibly by the Slavs who tried to capture Thessaloniki in the second half of the 6th century.
The Sandanski Museum of Archaeology was founded in 1936, and is one of the five archaeological museums in Bulgaria specializing in ancient archaeology. It is situated over the foundations of Bishop John’s Basilica. Its exhibits feature a unique collection of later Roman marble gravestones and tablets and Early Christian mosaics.