12. Nestorian Tablet from Xi’an (Chang’an)
Tang dynasty (618—907 CE), dated 781
Forest of the Steles Museum, Xi’an, China
Ricci 12 KP China 2007 178
This is the famous stele dated 781 that chronicles the arrival of Eastern Christian missionaries in the Tang capital of Xi’an in 635 CE. The stele gives details of the establishment under imperial patronage of churches and monasteries in China, and lists the names in Syriac of over seventy priests and monks of the Eastern Christian communities.
The stone itself was discovered by grave-diggers around 1625, who found the two-ton stone buried deep in the earth in the countryside surrounding Xi’an. A local antiquarian recognized the cross as a reference to Christianity, and forwarded a copy to some Jesuit friends residing in Beijing. To their astonishment, the stone revealed that Christianity had been introduced almost a thousand years before their own arrival. When the Jesuits reported this find to the world, it was widely derided in Enlightenment Europe as a Jesuit fabrication.
A full-sized rubbing of the entire monument is in the Del Santo Reading Room to the far left of the doors to the USF Ricci Institute.