History tells us that the Apostle Thomas travelled from Jerusalem to India, passing through Central Asia in his mission to spread the Gospel to the world. Recent archeological discoveries in Kyrgyzstan have created renewed interest in the traditional belief that the relics of St Matthew were preserved at a monastery on Lake Issyk-Kul. Central Asia – including areas of China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Azerbejan, as well as the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – has an ancient Christian history of which very little is known outside a small circle of scholars and local Christian communities.
From 1990 to 2004 I lived mostly in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and – for a few months – Kyrgyzstan. I visited Turkmenistan and Tadzhikistan and made a short trip to Afghanistan as well. As a Franciscan priest, I was mostly involved in pastoral work in those countries. In Tashkent, I oversaw the reconstruction of a historic Catholic Church. In cooperation with the late Ludmila Zukova, an archeologist who worked for 30 years in the protection of the monuments of Uzbekistan’s history and culture, I was able to assist in the publication of two Russian-language volumes of scholarly articles on Christianity in Central Asia from ancient times to the present. These works can be read on this website, and it gives me great satisfaction to know that many scholars are referencing those volumes in their own studies of the Christian history of Central Asia.
After thirteen years working outside Central Asia, in 2018 I had the chance to return to the region and visit some of the archeological sites connected with the history of Christianity there. These visits piqued my interest in learning more about this largely unknown aspect of the story of Christianity. After some searching online, it became clear that an Internet resource center with a bibliography, articles, books, films, lectures and photographs about Christianity in Central Asia would greatly advance scholarly research and exchange.
In 2020 we will mark 1600 years since the establishment of Metropolitan of Merv in present-day Turkmenistan. It seems a fitting time to launch this much-needed online archive, which is supported and underwritten by the Franciscan Province of St Anthony and Blessed Jakub Strzemie in Kraków, Poland.
This site is currently maintained by a couple of part-time volunteers, who will do their best to add new information to our archive. I hope that with contributions from scholars who are working in the field, this website will grow in resources and will encourage a new generation of historians and archeologists to discover and reveal story of Christianity in Central Asia.
Fr Krzysztof Kukułka, Ph.D., OFM Conv