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Excavations of a series of medieval churches in central Sudan have revealed a treasure trove of art, including a European-influenced work, along with evidence of journeys undertaken by travelers from western Europe that were equivalent to the distance between New York City and the Grand Canyon.A visit by a Catalonian man named Benesec is recorded in one of the churches, along with visits from other pilgrims of the Middle Ages, according to lead researcher Bogdan Zurawski of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
The art there tells stories of kings, saints, pilgrims and even a female demon, said Zurawski, who presented his findings recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.One of the inscriptions at Banganartiis written in Catalonian and appears to have been inscribed sometime in the 13th or 14th century by the man named Benesec.It reads: "When Benesec came to pay homage to Raphael." Zurawski told Live Science that "Benesec" was a very popular name in 13th- and 14th-century southern France.This particular Benesec had probably traveled some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) from southern France or northern Spain.Inside medieval churches Zurawski said the most recent of the churches uncovered in Banganarti, built nearly 1,000 years ago, is unique."It has no parallel in Nubia and elsewhere," he said.
[See images of Banganarti church discoveries] The church contains 18 square rooms, two staircases and, at its center, a domed area that probably contained holy relics.
The team believes the building was dedicated to the archangel Raphael and was used for healing rituals.
"The multitude of inscriptions addressed to this archangel are more than suggestive" that the church was dedicated to him, Zurawski said.
Beneath this building lies a structure, built about 300 years earlier, which also appears to have been dedicated to Raphael.
This lower church, as the archaeologists refer to it, contains a ninth-century mural depicting "the Harrowing of Hell," which shows Jesus visiting the underworld to rescue the firstborn.
[See images of the lower church] A Catalonian journey The team uncovered numerous inscriptions at the two sites, many left by pilgrims visiting the churches in hopes of being healed.