The Vatican sent various emissaries to substantiate the Iruña Veleia materials
The Holy See shows its interest in all the fragments
The Christian-themed inscriptions in Basque and images from Jesus' life are unique in the world
By Elena Arteagoitia
VITORIA: These days, the international archaeological community looks, with astonishment, to Alava, where they have found the world's oldest epigraphic representation of a scene from the life of Jesus — the Veleia Calvary — as well as inscriptions on Christian themes in Basque, at least a half millennium earlier that those which made the monasteries of Suso and Yuso in San Millán de la Cogolla get named Humanity Heritage sites. The expectation has come to such a point that even the Vatican has shown its interest in one of the most important epigraphic groups from the Roman world, which archaeologists at the Alavesan site have found.
According to what ecclesiastical sources have told this newspaper, emissaries of Pope Benedict XVI knew of the appearance of these materials several weeks ago. But the relevance of the fragments found, over all in their date (the third century after Christ and in a time of persecution of the Christian faithful), made the Holy See send some specialists in the Roman era from the Curia to the Alavesan enclave, to substantiate in situ the importance of a piece like the Calvary, the ostrakas with asaetado(?) pagan gods, as well as the graffiti in Basque on other materials that point to this same time.
The Vatican emissaries certified that, in spite of their simplicity, the epigraphic material found in Iruña Veleia that dated from the third century before Christ, is of great historical value, because no other graphic representation so early of the Son of God's death is known. Not even on the walls of the catacombs in Rome, according to the director of the archaeological site, Eliseo Gil, does one find a recognizable figure of Christ drawn on his road to Mt. Golgotha and crucified on the cross, as reported by the Diario de Noticias de Alava.
All the same, the discovery requires a historical revision of the hypotheses that were held about the origin of Christianity in the Basque Country that, until now, were only testified to by archaeological sites 200 years more recent; that is to say, from the fifth century after Christ, with the church discovered in Salinillas de Buradón.
Also, in spite of the image disinterred in Iruña Veleia having been made public this week, the Diocese of Vitoria already knew beforehand of the appearance of the piece and its relevant significance. Representatives of the Diocese made the discovery known to the highest levels of the Holy See, which immediately sent its own observers to the Alavesan site.
During the visit, the emissaries could substantiate in situ the value of the precious find, as well as praising the state of conservation of the pieces in front of the archaeologists. And this carried weight, in that they had still not made public that the pieces had passed the carbon 14 and particle accelerator detection tests in various European labs.
At that time, the conclusion of the visit of the Holy See's emissaries was kept under the strictest secrecy. But the material discovered already had surprised the most eminent ecclesiastical specialists, accustomed to preserve and study materials from this Roman epoch found in other sites of the first importance over everybody in the world, and which usually end up in display cases under intense security measures.
From the period that the Calvary is dated, the third century, when Christian communities were persecuted in the Roman Empire, they only knew until this time that logo images had appeared, mainly, decorating the walls of the catacombs, though with little figure detail. At the moment, the finds that have galvanized investigators, politicians, and various personalities of the academic world, are in the Museum of Archaeology in Vitoria.