One of Egypt’s oldest churches dating back to the 4th century found hidden behind ancient basilica wall

What is left of the church was discovered in the ancient port of Marea, near the city of Alexandria. T. Skrzypiec/pcma.uw.edu.pl

Polish archaeologists have discovered a 4th Century church in Egypt, which they say could be one of the oldest known Christian temples in Egypt.

What is left of the church was discovered in the ancient port of Marea, near the city of Alexandria. 

A team from the University of Warsaw’s Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology has been conducting research since 2000, including digging and conservation work.

In the basilica, which operated from the 5th to the 8th Century, the archaeologists discovered remnants of a church dating back to the 4th century. A. Drzymuchowska

The team’s most interesting findings in Marea so far include a basilica, a burial chapel and the largest collections of ceramic fragments (“ostraca” to archaeologists) discovered in Egypt.

In the basilica, which operated from the 5th to the 8th Century, the archaeologists discovered remnants from ever further back in time.

The outline of the church from the 4th century is marked in brown. D. Tarara

“At the end of the last research season, under the floor of the basilica, we encountered a wall’s remains, which turned out to be the outer walls of an even older church,” said Dr Krzysztof Babraj of the Museum of Archaeology in Kraków, who led research on the basilica.

“This is one of the oldest Christian temples discovered in Egypt so far,” he added.

In addition to the basilica and a burial chapel, the team’s most interesting findings in Marea so far include the largest collections of ceramic fragments ('ostraca' to archaeologists) discovered in Egypt.A. Drzymuchowska

The older church is underneath the basilica, which was destroyed by an earthquake. The form of its limestone walls, along with ceramic and glass fragments found inside the ruins, indicate that the church dates back to the mid-4th Century.

Dr Krzysztof Babraj from the Museum of Archaeology in Kraków said the discovery is important because no other remnants are known of churches in neighbouring Alexandria. A. Drzymuchowska

Measuring 24 by 15 metres, the church was decorated with polychromes, little of which has survived. The archaeologists are collecting what is left of them, scattered in thousands of fragments.

The form of the limestone walls, along with ceramic and glass fragments found inside the ruins, indicate that the church dates back to the mid-4th Century.T. Kalarus/pcma.uw.edu.pl

“Our discovery is also important because we basically don’t know any remnants of churches from the neighbouring metropolis, Alexandria. 

“Now we know how they could look, which is why it is so important to continue our research that we have just begun in the old church,” said Babraj, explaining the discovery’s significance.