Early Christianity in Sopianae (Pécs)

Early Christianity in Sopianae (Pécs)

c AD 200–400


The city of Pécs lies in the southwestern part of Hungary. It is the capital of Baranya County and the fifth largest city by population in Hungary. It was built on the site of its Roman predecessor Sopianae. At the end of the 3rd century, the Roman province of Pannonia was divided into 4 administrative regions, and Sopianae became the capital of Valeria, the region occupying the eastern part of the Transdanubian area.

Christianity gained ground in Sopianae in the 3rd century. The large early Christian cemetery of the city lay below today’s cathedral (see picture) and the surrounding area. The unearthing of the burial places started in the 18th century and continue to this day. Tombs, burial chambers, burial chapels and two-storied sepulchral monuments were excavated. The martyrs were usually buried in the more adorned buildings. The frescos of the buildings portray events and people from the Bible and are decorated with Christian symbols.

The early Christian cemetery from the Roman era in Pécs was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in November, 2000.

The most important buildings uncovered so far:

  • Peter-Paul burial chamber, which was built in the 4th century, and is probably the most well-known early Christian building in Pannonia. It was discovered in 1782. The inner walls are decorated with Bible stories, pictures of plants and animals, and monograms of Christ. The name of the burial chamber is derived from the fresco depicting the apostles Peter and Paul as they point towards the monogram of Christ.
  • Cella trichora (chapel with three apses). It was built at the end of the 4th century and was used even in the 12th century.
  • Cella septichora, chapel with seven apses.
  • Burial chamber with a jug painted on its wall. This building is comprised of a burial chamber and a chapel above it, and it was built at the end of the 4th century. A jug and a glass is painted onto the wall of a niche in the northern wall, hence the name of the building.
  • Two-storied early Christian mausoleum, consisting of a chapel with an apse of 18.20 * 9.50m (60′ * 31′) in size and an underground crypt. The chapel was dedicated to the martyr buried here. The walls of the subterranean crypt are decorated with pictures painted in the style of the Roman catacombs. Among the paintings we find Christ’s monogram, symbolizing the religious belief of the deceased; the stories of the Fall of Adam and Eve, Daniel in the lion’s den, etc. The martyr was laid in a white marble sarcophagus, and the two other deceased in two sandstone sarcophagi. The marble sarcophagus is from the 3rd century, the sepulchral building was built in the fifties-sixties of the 4th century. The building was damaged during the great migrations.

floor planwalls
The floor-plan of the early Christian mausoleum’s chapel and burial chamber, as well as an illustration of its original shape.The remains of the walls of the early Christian mausoleum’s chapel.
underground burial chamberburial chamber
The underground burial chamber of the early Christian mausoleum.The burial chamber with a jug painted on its wall.

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