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Early Christians in Hungary

We were joined by Elder and Sister Bagozzi in a tour of  Pécs, including the underground early Christian cemetery. Baileys and Bagozzis Touring Pecs

We also invited the Elders (Wiscomb, Snyder, Nielsen, Wright) for this tour of  Pécs by a professional guide.Baileys and Missionaries - April 2012

Christianity spread from its origin in and around Judea in Israel to Europe during the Roman era. The history of Christianity in what is now Hungary began in the Roman province of Pannonia, which later would be included in Hungary.Roman Empire

The presence of Christian communities in Pannonia was evident as early as the 2nd century AD. Beginning in the 5th century, the land was under the successive control of the Huns, Germanic peoples, and others. Even so, some of those early Christian communities may have survived up until the 9th century, when the Hungarians arrived.

The history of Pécs goes back more than 2,000 years. Pécs and its surrounding villages were known as Sopianae, and have been continuously inhabited since about 200 AD. By the end of the 3rd century AD, Sopianae (Pécs) had become the administrative center of Pannonia.Sopianae Sketch

The early part of Christian history (the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD) was an age of religious persecution in the Roman Empire.Roman Christian Persecution

To believe that Jesus was the Messiah was a very dangerous way to live.Roman Christian Persecution

By the early 4th Century AD, Christianity had been established as the ‘state religion’ (thanks to Constantine). By the end of the 4th century AD, the teachings of Jesus were well-known, and Christianity had attracted many believers.

In Pécs, there are some early Christian churches from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries AD buried about 20 feet under ground. Under these small churches there are some very old burial chambers. In total, archaeologists have discovered and excavated 16 crypts, hundreds of graves and thousands of late Roman relics.

Early on, there was no artistic Chi-Rho Christogramconvention for representing the new religion of Christianity. How could you tell if a person was a Christian or not? The first symbol used by early Christians was the ‘chi-rhoChristogram’.

The chi-rho monogram is the oldest known symbol of Jesus Christ, and dates back to the 2nd century. The chi (χ = chi) and the rho (ρ = r) are the first letters of Christ (Χριστός) in the Greek language. Among other uses, this symbol was the first used to designate a Christian (like a cross on a necklace for modern-day Catholics, a lapel image of the angel Moroni, or the CTR ring for some members of the LDS faith), or the grave of a Christian.

chi-rho at Szombathely MuseumSister Bailey and I first saw the Christogram on a 1,900 year-old tombstones in the museum in Szombathely in June of 2011. The curator of that museum explained what it meant, and we have been watching for evidence of early Christians ever since.

The chi-rho Christogram’s popularity got a strong boost when Constantine Constantinethe Great (306-337 AD), one of 133 Emperors of the Roman World, was on his way to a difficult battle against a much larger and stronger army. Constantine purportedly saw the chi-rho Christogram in a dream the evening before the battle. In the dream, he was told to affix the symbol to his shields before facing the enemy, which he did. In the battle on the following day (October 312 AD) his army won a decisive victory.

This experience solidified Constantine’s positive attitude towards both Christ and Christianity. In fact, he converted to Christianity, and allowed Christians to practice their religion freely throughout the Roman Empire. Even though the chi-rho Christogram was used by Christians long before Constantine became emperor, it became much more widespread after he used it for winning that major battle.

chi-rho coin - 353The emperor who reigned right after Constantine issued bronze coins showing the chi-rho Christogram in 353 AD. He also added the Greek letters of alpha and omega, which were the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet, and this is also related to Jesus (see Revelations 1:8 and 22:13). This was the first sign of Christianity to appear on Roman coins.

Most of the old burial chapels in Sopianae (Pécs) were one-storey buildings, constructed for two purposes: (a) as chapels for ceremonies on the main floor, and (b) as burial places in the basement. In the chapels and crypts, the early chi-rho Christograms were found on the walls of crypts, in several pictures, and on jewels, rings and earrings found in the graves.

This is the inside of one of the tombs we visited. The tomb is about 1,900 years old, and is the burial place of a well-to-do Christian, as can be seen by the Christogram painted on the wall.chi-rho in Burial Vault

This is another almost 2,000 year-old very colorful fresco that shows the Christogram on the ceiling of the tomb — again, indicating that the people buried here were Christians.chi-rho Ceiling Fresco

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