Emirati officials visit an ancient Christian monastery on Siniyah Island in Umm Al Quwain on Thursday. Associated Press
An ancient Christian monastery possibly dating as far back as the years before Islam spread across the Arabian Peninsula has been discovered on an island off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, officials announced on Thursday.
The monastery on Siniyah Island, part of the sand-dune of Umm Al Quwain, sheds new light on the history of early Christianity along the shores of the Arabian Gulf. It marks the second such monastery found in the Emirates, dating back as many as 1,400 years - long before its desert expanses gave birth to a thriving oil industry that led to a unified nation home to the high-rise towers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The monastery sits on Siniyah Island, which shields the Khor al-Beida marshlands in Umm Al Quwain, an emirate some 50 kilometres (30 miles) northeast of Dubai along the coast of the Arabian Gulf. The island, whose name means “blinking lights” likely due to the effect of the white-hot sun overhead, has a series of sandbars coming off of it. On one, to the island’s northeast, archaeologists discovered the monastery.
Carbon dating of samples found in the monastery’s foundation date between 534 and 656.
Viewed from above, the monastery on Siniyah Island’s floor plan suggests early Christian worshippers prayed within a single-aisle church at the monastery. Rooms within appear to hold a baptismal font, as well as an oven for baking bread or wafers for communion rites. A nave also likely held an altar and an installation for communion wine.
Next to the monastery sits a second building with four rooms, likely around a courtyard - possibly the home of an abbot or even a bishop in the early church.
On Thursday, the site saw a visit from Noura Bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, the country’s culture and youth minister, as well as Sheikh Majid Bin Saud Al Mualla, the chairman of the Umm Al Quwain’s Tourism and Archaeology Department.