Rubbing from a Nestorian Christian Stele
DateStele carved 781; rubbing taken ca. 1900
Mediumink on paper
Credit LineHope College Collection
LabelThe Church of the East, sometimes called the Nestorian Church after its early leader Archbishop Nestorius of Constantinople, split off as a distinct branch of the Christian tradition following the Council of Ephesus in 431. The Church of the East first flourished under the protection of the Sasanian Empire in Iran, and from there spread to other states in Central Asia and India. In 635, a delegation of missionaries from the Church of the East arrived in China and were granted permission to establish churches there by the Tang Dynasty emperor Taizong. The Church of the East survived in China for more than two centuries, but gradually disappeared in the face of religious persecutions and civil wars during the 9th and 10th centuries. This rubbing was taken from a large stone tablet called a stele that was carved in the Tang Dynasty capital Chang’an (modern Xi’an) in 781. The text commemorates the introduction of Christianity into China and celebrates its continued existence there at the time the stele was carved. The stele was buried in 845 to protect it during a period of anti-foreign religious persecution, and remained hidden in the ground until it was rediscovered in 1625. At that time, the first wave of Christian missionaries from Europe was reaching China and the stele was used by them to legitimize their own proselytizing efforts. The stele attracted great attention again in the second half of the 19th century when a second wave of European and American Christian missionaries made another big push to win converts in China. Today, the stele is preserved and displayed in the Forest of Steles Museum in Xi’an, China.