The Watch

Da Qin Christian Pagoda and Monastery

near Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China

2002 World Monuments Watch

The earliest surviving church in China, the Da Qin Pagoda and Monastery were constructed at a time when Christianity was spreading to the east, introduced by the Nestorians in the early-seventh century A.D. Among the relics preserved within the pagoda are a nativity scene executed in mud and plaster; a statue depicting Jonah lying beneath the walls of Nineveh, which represents a fusion of Chinese and Western artistic traditions; and Syriac graffiti etched into the walls. The pagoda and monastery – only traces remain of the latter – were abandoned ca. 845 as a result of persecution. In 1300, the pagoda was converted into a Buddhist temple. However, it was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1556, which sealed many of its underground chambers and led to its final abandonment. As virtually nothing survives of the ancient art and architecture of the Church of the East, Da Qin Christian Pagoda is a rare site indeed. While the site has remained virtually untouched since its abandonment in the sixteenth century, its significance has only recently become known. Local seismic activity threatens the structural stability of the pagoda and flooding has weakened buried sections and damaged artworks. Exposure to the elements has also eroded some of the mud reliefs. The prospect of looting and agricultural encroachment require site security. The pagoda’s exterior was restored in 1999, however, its stability is uncertain. In addition to conservation and advocacy, nominators hope to realize a plan for site interpretation, including the creation of a site museum and study center.

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