An administrative region in northern Pakistan that borders Afghanistan, China and India is home to five of the world’s highest peaks and about 1.3 million mostly Muslim mountain people.
But it once had a strong Christian presence, as evidenced by the discovery of a marble cross researchers believe is more than 1,000 years old, reports the Assyrian International News Agency.
The researchers from the University of Baltistan in Skardu, Pakistan, say it isn’t something that villagers a millennium ago would have casually brought along on their travels. It’s about five feet by six feet and weighs several tons.
AINA reported the three university researchers who were at the site near the village of Kavardo were Muhammad Naeem Khan, vice-chancellor; Zakir Hussain Zakir, director of studies; and Ishtaiq Hussain Maqpoon, head of external relations.
Initial estimates concluded the “Kavardo Cross,” as it is now called, is between 1,000 and 1,200 years old. But the University of Baltistan plans to partner with European and North American institutes and local historians to determine the age.
It’s one of the largest crosses on the Indian subcontinent, according to Wajid Bhatti, another researcher from the University of Baltistan.
The artifact indicating the presence of Christians in the Himalayan region is a delight to the Christian minority in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
“This is really big news for all of us,” Caritas Pakistan general manager Mansha Noor told AINA.
Proposals already are being considered to allow Christians to visit the site, which is near the historic Silk Road.
Béatrice Caseau, a teacher of Byzantine history at Sorbonne University, noted Christianity was brought to the mountainous region by Christian merchants from the Middle East, the report said.
She told AINA there are traces of Christians in the region dating back to the 5th century, before Islam.
The Barnabas Fund, which assists persecuted Christians worldwide, quoted a Pakistani Christian leader saying: “Praise the Lord, this makes me very joyful. It will be a great encouragement to Christians in Pakistan to show that our faith was here many, many generations ago, before Islam came.”