The Paleo-Christian Basilica

Near the high cliff of the port of Constanta,on the Trajan street, partially under the building of “Mihai Eminescu” National College, hide from sight the ruins of the Christian Basilica, which was discovered by pure chance in the 60’s by the uncovering the crypt below the altar. The room was well preserved, and was later reinforced to prevent further damage. Under the ground level on the western side of the crypt, at a depth of 2.5 meters is a 1.66 meters high and 0.8 meters wide entrance with the frame made of large slabs of carved stone. Access to the entrance is possible because of eight steps of stone built in a long corridor of 3.20 m and wide of 0.83 m that lead to it. In the upper and lower threshold you can see the holes for the door and the inner chopped edge of the right heel, which shows prolonged usage. From this point on starts the actual room with a rectangular shape. The Northern and the Southern sides are 6.5 meters long, while the Eastern and Western ones are 3.7 meters wide, and the roof of the room is arched. About 2/3 of the Western part of the crypt is a fairly well kept room, with dimensions of 3.70 x 3.75 m and the maximum height of 2.32 m. The side walls and a good part of the plaster painted (with red, green and yellow) are still preserved, but the colors are very faded, sometimes barely distinguishable.

On the lower half of the walls, the painting is made up from large rectangular frames, while the upper half is made up from smaller squares that have twigs and flowers. On the Eastern third of the crypt (2,45×3,75 m) exists 3 graves with arched roofs, each with a height of 1.68 m and a width of 0.90 m. On their walls there are still remains of unfinished plaster, which has no paintings on it. In the Southern and Northern wall of the side graves, at about half the height, there are two small niches, necessary for lighting. Inside the crypt were found two fragments of white marble-veneer plates. One of them was decorated with the sign of the cross overlapping with a globe, while the other one had a pigeon in a trapezoidal frame. In Christianity, as well as in other cultures, the dove symbolizes peace, but can also have other interpretations. According to the Slavic tradition, the soul is transformed into one such bird upon death, but in other religions such as Hinduism, the dove is the animal representing the soul. In Christianity The Holy Spirit is also sometimes embodied in a dove.

Dated in the second half of the 4th century AD, the basilica would have fulfilled, according to the experts, the function of episcopate of the city. Constantin Chera, doctor in History from the Museum of National History and Archeology in Constanta, explains:” We find ourselves in the presence of one of the 7th Basilicas of Tomis, which was built by the first Christians in the area. Dobrogea is one of the first provinces from Romania that became Christian. The first person that managed to bring the word of Christ with success in the Pontic area was the Apostle St. Andrew, and this Basilica is evidence for this. One symbol found inside is the Holy Cross, and the other one is the dove, which is one of the most important Christian motifs.”

Sadly, the Basilica suffers from an aggressive and continuous state of degradation. The painted crypt, in which the dead bodies of the clerics used to be, is not properly insulated resulting in the lack of protection from temperature or humidity variations. The bricks from which the walls are made of, but also the fresco, are always wet due to condensation. This is why the precious painting, similar to the one from the Hypogeum Tomb is degrading with every passing day. The basilica is not included in any tourist route and is not promoted in any way.

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