Saturday 22 July 2017

Byzantine 'flat-pack' church found on shipwreck to be reassembled at museum

The ruins of a Byzantine church in Athrun, Libya, which is of a similar type to a
The ruins of a Byzantine church in Athrun, Libya, which is of a similar type to a "flat-pack" church raised from the Mediterranean Sea that is to be reassembled in the UK (Ashmolean Museum/PA)
The marble pieces of the church will form part of an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford

A Byzantine "flat-pack" church raised from the Mediterranean Sea is to be reassembled in the UK.

The marble pieces of the church will form part of an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford called Storms, War And Shipwrecks: Treasures From The Sicilian Seas.

The museum's director has joked that he hopes putting the church together will be "easier than an Ikea wardrobe".

The Emperor Justinian (c482-565) was a prolific builder of churches in his efforts to regulate Christianity across his empire.

Under his rule, based at Constantinople, large stone-carrying ships, laden with prefabricated marble church interiors, were sent out from quarries around the Sea of Marmara to sites in Italy and North Africa.

But some of the ships never made it to their destinations, because due to them being heavy and slow they became unbalanced and sank during stormy weather.

In the 1960s, German archaeologist Gerhard Kapitan excavated a shipwreck off the south-east coast of Sicily.

Hundreds of prefabricated marble elements of basilica were brought to the surface, including 28 columns, slabs and pieces of a pulpit.

Much still remains on the seabed and the site has been under investigation again since 2012.

The Ashmolean will use a selection of pieces to reconstruct the church interior, allowing visitors to experience the building which spent more than a thousand years on the seabed.

Referring to it as a "flat-pack" church, Dr Alexander Sturgis, director of the Ashmolean, said it is the first time they have attempted to reassemble the church, adding: "We hope it will be easier than an Ikea wardrobe."

Dr Paul Roberts, keeper of the department of antiquities at the Ashmolean, said: "Visitors to this exhibition will be taken on a journey through Sicily's fascinating history.

"Here at the Ashmolean, for the first time, this story will be told exclusively through spectacular finds from the sea, because it is the sea which has always been the lifeblood of the island's unique and diverse culture."

:: The exhibition will be at the museum from June 21 to September 25 next year.

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