Renovations, while often necessary for structures affected by deterioration over the years, can also sometimes yield amazing surprises. When you have a building that’s stood for centuries, you never really know what kinds of artifacts or other important pieces of history were hidden away deep inside locked vaults or sealed chambers.
When the Church of St. Mary and St. Eanswythe in England needed renovations in 1885, a team of skilled workers carefully deconstructed the eroding areas in hopes to bring the building back to its vibrant life. While they were dismantling each room piece by piece, they came upon an odd container that potentially held key information about a prominent religious figure.
The Church of St. Mary and St. Eanswythe in England is a beautiful stone building standing tall among the lush trees and vegetation that surround it. The building, which recently underwent renovations, has stood since the 7th century.
It’s located in the quaint coastal town of Folkestone, in the county of Kent. This spot also happened to be the location of Folkestone Priory, the very first nunnery in England.
The nunnery was founded by an Anglo-Saxon princess named St.
Eanswythe. She lived from 614 A.D. to 640 A.D. St. Eanswythe’s father was also a major player when it came to Christianity.
Her father was King Eadbald of Kent. He was also the son of King Ethelbert, the first ruler in England to change his religious belief from Anglo-Saxon paganism to Christianity.
St. Eanswythe, like her family, dedicated her life to God.
At just 16 years old, St. Eanswythe, along with a group of close associates, moved into the Folkestone Priory. There she could completely submerge herself in spiritual enlightenment, prayer, and assisting the elderly.
For years St. Eanswythe worked tirelessly to care of others around her and worship God. When she eventually passed away, she became Folkestone’s patron saint and was placed in a mountainside chapel along the sea.
Over the years, coastal erosion threatened the integrity of much of the chapel, so the saint’s remains were moved to a special shrine for protection inside the Church of St.
Mary and St. Eanswythe. Unfortunately, more trouble was on the horizon.
During the Christian Reformation of the 16th century, representatives of Henry VIII plundered and ransacked the church where St. Eanswythe’s remains were kept.
Even though there was damage done, the structure mostly still stood strong.
Christians in the surrounding area were obviously devastated by the damage, but they took solace in the fact that building itself was standing. However, at some point in the following years, the remains of St.
Eanswythe suddenly disappeared!
And centuries after the church’s establishment, a vicar named Matthew Woodward led a team to renovate the Church of St. Mary and St. Eanswythe in 1851.
Woodward’s renovations turned the church into an even more breathtaking building than the original — he added vibrant stained glass windows and ornate mosaics.
But, the team also came across a mysterious container nestled in the wall.
It was a reliquary used to hold religious relics and texts, and when workers finally broke through the wall, they found bones! Who the bones belonged to they had no idea.
However, modern technology today changed all that.
Technology during the 19th-century wasn’t even advanced enough to run forensics tests on the bones to see who they belonged to. Luckily, massive leaps in the last couple decades now make it possible, and one team was determined to find an answer.
In 2017, historians from Kent joined forces with archaeologists from the Folkestone Museum and Canterbury Christ Church University in a mission to determine the source of the bones. It took three years to get sufficient funding, but the work finally began.
A team of osteologists carefully examine the bones and determined all the remains belonged to one person. a female who shared similar traits with St. Eanswythe. Hmm...
Could these bones belong to the saint whose remains suddenly disappeared during the Reformation? Radiocarbon dating from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland also confirmed the bones were from the same time the saint lived!
Laboratory manager Stephen Hoper said, “Our analyses of a tooth sample and a bone sample both believed to be from St. Eanswythe have produced calibrated age ranges that are in good agreement.” Now, the team wanted to determine the cause of death.
DNA tests still have to be carried out for the answer, but many people assume St. Eanswythe succumbed to the plague. But, there’s also another major fact scientists hope DNA tests can account for.
There may very well be a good chance the saint is one of Queen Elizabeth II’s earliest relatives!
No one can say for sure whether or not this is true, but the evidence supported the fact St. Eanswythe was finally found.
Archaeology lecturer Dr. Ellie Williams said, “In 2017, when we launched ‘Finding Eanswythe,’ we couldn’t have imagined studying the skeletal remains of what is almost certainly St.
Eanswythe herself.” And, as we know, archaeologists are always discovering more historical treasures.
No matter what you believe, Biblical stories are widely recognized. We’ve all heard of Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark.
Another particularly familiar set of stories include Jesus and the many miracles he performed within the pages of the New Testament.
Water to wine is certainly one of his greatest hits, but a recent discovery has shed some light on another famous miracle.
The story involves Jesus creating food for thousands out of just two fish and five loaves of bread.
One of the things that separates believers from non-believers has to do with evidence. Some find it challenging to believe in something that relies on faith.
With recent findings, however, that faith might not be so blind.
Our setting is the ancient city Hippos-Sussita. The city is vastly different than it was in the fourth century, as bustling streets have been replaced with miles and miles of excavations and dig sites.
With over seven churches in the city limits of this archaic holy land, archaeologists have had their hands full. However, only one of the seven churches piqued the interest of those working in the area. The South-West Church was different.
When Romans began to settle in Hippos during the second century, things really started to come together. The city boasted a basilica, a theater, and an odeon. Also, a very elaborate shrine to the emperor. Things were all wine and togas for awhile.
During the fourth century A.D., the Christians showed up. Away went the shrine to the emperor and up popped a crazy number of churches per capita. For over four centuries, Hippos was a center for Christianity.
Even when Muslim soldiers conquered the city, the Christians were still permitted to practice their religion.
Unfortunately, in 749 A.D. the city was basically destroyed by a huge earthquake and was left abandoned for over 1,000 years.
Until our brilliant friends the archaeologists showed up and started sorting out a historical timeline from the myriad ruins strewn across the area.
The 21st century ushered in large-scale excavation sites in the area, leading to some amazing discoveries..
One aspect that drew researchers so strongly to this particular church were the intricate mosaics preserved on its floors.
Additionally, the church appears to have not fallen victim to the epic earthquake. It looks as though it was destroyed in a different way.
Fire seems to be the culprit for the destruction of the church, whether by accident or arson remains unclear.
It turns out, the fire was a positive thing for modern day researchers.
Copious and suffocating amounts of ash covered the floor and, by extension, the mosaic. The ash allowed the decorative tiles to be surprisingly well-preserved even so many years later.
This is extremely lucky, because the mosaic tiles tell some incredible stories.
In one odd observation, epigraphist Gregor Stabb saw that the Greek inscriptions where not grammatically correct. This led the team to believe Greek wasn’t the official language of the people that founded the church.
The experts believe the congregation may have used Aramaic as their native tongue. Meaning that the members of the church spoke the language associated with Jesus Christ. This would be even more important when they discovered one particular mosaic.
On the eastern side of the church, the images of two fishes and multiple baskets of bread with five loaves in each are depicted in various stones. You may remember the biblical story that discusses these very items.
Dr. Michael Eisenburg was one of the leaders of the excavation, and he was interested in how the ancient mosaic mirrored the biblical story.
“The association that came to mind was the miracle of the loaves and the fish,” he stated.
The similarities of the biblical story and the mosaic are so specific in number it makes them even more compelling. In the bible it tells of a dozen baskets to hold the leftover food and the South-West Church has exactly the same number of baskets.
Traditionally, biblical scholars believed Tabgha, located across the water from Hippos, to be the location of this particular miracle. They even have a church called “Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish.” However, the mosaic there only depicts four loaves of bread.
Eisenburg thinks it is possible that Hippos was the location of the miracle, but he can’t be certain. “It can be hard to draw the line between where art ends and symbolism and religion begin,” he said. Another expert noticed a flaw in the theory.
“Without a doubt, they’re not local,” professor Moshe Gophen says of the fish at the “Burnt Church.” This brings up the point that they wouldn’t have been the type of fish Jesus would have allegedly multiplied, poking holes in the “proof.”
Nearly 90% of the mosaic has been uncovered, with the team of experts still working on the last 10%.
While they uncover more of the art piece, experts not so far away are diving into another story discussed in the Bible.
According to another story that appears in the Bible and the Quran, God asked Noah to build a giant ark where he can wait out a world-destroying storm.
But the holy texts weren’t Noah’s first appearances.
His story debuted centuries earlier in Mesopotamia, though he was called Ziusudra then. Later, he showed up in a Babylonian story under the name Gilgamesh. Noah’s been talked about for a long, long time.
Given the mystery and power behind the original story, it’s no wonder that Hollywood has fallen in love with Noah. As the story of his ark became more and more popular, explorers began launching expeditions to search for what’s left of the boat.
But modern researchers are conflicted on the true story behind the ark. Some interpret the story literally, while many believe the flood might’ve been melting glacial ice as a result of the conclusion of the Ice Age.
One explorer, Robert Ballard, tried to prove this theory in 1989.
He theorized that the Ark could have sunk to the bottom of the Black Sea after the glacial floods receded. But what he found surprised him.
After exploring hundreds of square miles beneath the sea, Ballard’s team miraculously discovered a 7,000-year-old settlement destroyed by floodwaters, but no signs of an ark.
Though he ended up empty-handed, he wasn’t the last to go searching for the ship.
See, many ark-maniacs believe two blurry government photos of Mount Ararat (the supposed biblical resting place of the Ark) are hiding a secret that could confirm the ship’s location.
So in 2004, when businessman Daniel McGivern set out to explore the anomaly on Mount Ararat, many were disappointed when he was denied access by the Turkish government.
Another team went up into the Alborz Mountains in Iran and located what looked like an enormous blackened ruin.
Though some thought this could be an ark candidate, others remarked it could just be a mineral deposit.
Another team went up into the Alborz Mountains in Iran and located what looked like an enormous blackened ruin. Though some thought this could be an ark candidate, others remarked it could just be a mineral deposit.
When a Hong Kong-based group called Noah’s Ark Ministries International (NAMI) traveled to Mount Arafat, they found something some archaeologists are struggling to explain.
About 13,000 feet up the mountain, NAMI explorers allegedly found large wooden compartments buried in the ground.
And when they investigated the ruins further, they discovered something odd.
The group tested the materials using radiocarbon dating, and the age of the wood was revealed to be about 4,800 years old — around the time Noah was purported to have built his ark.
One scholar, though, was not so sure.
Somehow believing both in the well-tested science of carbon dating and that God created the world just 6,000 years ago, he disagreed with their findings, purporting the wood should date back much more than 4,800 years.
Others have different concerns.
Mount Ararat as the ark’s resting place is a modern concept, not specified in the Bible. “The whole notion is odd because the Bible tells you the ark landed somewhere in Urartu,” noted biblical scholar Jack Sasson.
So what was the structure NAMI found?
Some scholars believe the structure could be an ancient shrine dedicated to where some thought the ark could be. But even then, the wood should be much younger for one simple reason: the Bible hadn’t been written 4,800 years ago!
Though the findings hadn’t been corroborated, Turkey planned to petition the United Nations to list the structure as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They were, perhaps unsurprisingly, unsuccessful. Despite all the setbacks, NAMI stuck to their story.
“We believe that the wooden structure we entered is the same structure recorded in historical accounts,” said one member in a statement to the press, “and the same ancient boat indicated by the locals.”
So while no one can yet confirm the veracity of NAMI’s claims, ark-heads across the globe will continue to search high and low for signs of the biblical boat.
But some aren’t satisfied just searching for the Ark…
When Johan Huibers gazes up at his life’s work, a wave of pride rushes over him. After all, he’s done what no other man has accomplished — at least, not for a few thousand years.
Back in the early 1990s, Johan had a terrible dream. The young businessman saw visions of a great flood ravaging his home province of Noord-Holland in the Netherlands. He snapped awake the next morning with an idea he just couldn’t shake.
Though Johan didn’t have a chance to act on his peculiar idea for years, it never left his mind. Then, in 2008, people noticed some construction happening in the bay of Dordrecht. Across a foundation of 21 barges, a crew was assembling a great wooden hull.
Four whole years later, Johan felt ready to finally unveil his dream-inspired masterpiece. A large crowd gathered around the wooden vessel as Johan’s crew lowered the gangplank. At long last, he brought everyone in on his secret.
Johan built a full replica of Noah’s Ark! Inspired by his devout faith and an apocalyptic dream, Johan envisioned this ship as a way to educate and bring people together. He knew that only the most impressive recreation could accomplish this feat.
And Johan’s Ark can hold just as many passengers as Noah’s. He designed it according to the same dimensions described in the Bible. All in all, the ship is 410 feet long, 95 feet wide, and 75 feet tall.
Plans for the Ark came with a hefty price tag of $1.6 million, but Johan insisted it was worth it.
He didn’t skimp on any details either. As stunning as the Ark looks from the outside, the coolest features are deep within the ship’s decks.
Just as Noah brought two of each animal aboard, Johan’s Ark has tons of incredibly lifelike sculptures.
These statues give visitors a sense of just how many species of animals there are across the world. It’s almost like an actual zoo!
Johan also included lifelike habitats to go along with his animals to provide a sense of realism.
After all, he says he believes every word of the Bible. That means Noah’s Ark must have provided aquatic animals with plenty of water.
With incoming funds from visitors’ entry fees, Johan hopes to upgrade his exhibit to feature holographic animals.
That would certainly make his Ark come to life — without any of the costs and labor to take care of an actual gorilla. At the same time, the Ark isn’t totally lifeless.
On the top deck, an aviary houses birds of all shapes and sizes.
It’s right next to a private apartment for Johan and his wife. When they stay overnight at the Ark, they wake up each morning to the beautiful sound of birds singing!
So far, only visitors in Northern Europe have been able to enjoy Johan’s biblical tribute, but that’s not due to any lack of ambition.
In fact, people all over the world would have already toured the Ark by now if it weren’t for the mishaps getting in Johan’s way…
Shortly after opening the Ark to the public, Johan planned to sail it to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
While the voyage from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom is fairly short, it proved too costly.
After all, Johan needed to hire tugboats to pull the Ark, which has no motor or sail of its own. In 2016, he again intended to go to the Olympics, this time in Brazil.
But a disaster in his own backyard derailed the trip. It also threatened to destroy his life’s work.
After making it to Oslo, Norway, Johan docked the vessel overnight. A nearby vessel then broke free of its moorings and crashed into the side of the Ark.
It began to lift to one side, and water poured in through the opening.
Thanks to the quick work of his crew, Johan patched up his Ark and stopped it from sinking into Oslo’s harbor. Less courageous individuals would have taken fewer risks after such a catastrophe, but Johan’s misfortune only made him bolder.
In 2018, he announced he would sail the Ark all the way to Israel! “This is a copy of God’s ship,” Johan explained. “It only makes sense to take it to God’s land.” Estimating the trip would cost an additional $1.3 million, he started raising money.
Johan failed to hit his fundraising mark in 2018, but that turned out to be a blessing. Severe wildfires in Israel would have posed too great a danger to the Ark at that point in time. Nevertheless, as of December 2018, Johan was sticking to his grand vision.
He insisted that his Ark would soon reach the Holy Land — and that will certainly be a special day. Just imagine worshipping in the Ark’s church just a short distance away from where Noah’s Ark landed after the flood!
But Johan’s Ark still waited in Dordrecht’s harbor, entertaining guests from everywhere. That’s a true achievement. In a world filled with cynicism and doubt, Johan remained unafraid to pursue his own miracle.