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What is the Apostle Matthew doing in Kyrgyzstan?


Are the remains of the Apostle Matthew at the bottom of Lake Issyk-kul? Photo: Dan Lundberg/Foter/CC BY-SA

Are the remains of the Apostle Matthew at the bottom of Lake Issyk-kul? Photo Lake Issyk-kul: Dan Lundberg/Foter/CC BY-SA

Russian divers from the Tomsk State University in Siberia have uncovered the remains of a lost civilization at the bottom of Lake Issyk-kul in Kyrgystan. Bordering China, Kyrgystan has a population of nearly 6 million people of which 64% are Muslim.

Located in the Tian Shan mountains, Lake Issyk-kul is the tenth largest lake in the world by volume. It is the second largest salt lake and never freezes over during the winter and this led to its name which translated means “hot lake.”

It has 118 rivers and streams flowing into the lake but with no outlet, it has slowly grown over the years covering a number of ancient buildings and settlements.

The divers first discovered the remains of what some believe was an ancient civilization called the Saka buried in the sediment. This group existed about 2,500 years ago and was famous in ancient literature for its strong drink called Soma.

They also found more recent ruins on top and in it a piece of ceramic pottery with a stamp written in either Armenian or Syrian. It is in the process of being translated, but some already suspect this might be from the ancient Christian monastery that existed in the area during medieval times around the 14th century.

The monastery, mentioned several times in medieval texts, was said to have the bones of the Apostle Matthew buried in a tomb.

One of these include the ancient Catalan Map that refers to a cloister of Armenian brothers that went by the name of Issicol. Using a flaming cross, the map specifically marks the monastery’s location on the north end of the lake and adds this is where the bones of the Apostle Matthew were kept.

The recent dives were taking place on the north-east corner of Lake Issyk-kul.

Ancient ceramic pottery with a stamp written in either Syrian or w may be evidence of an ancient Christian monastery. Photo: Serbian Times

Ancient ceramic pottery with a stamp written in either Syrian or Armenian may be evidence of an ancient Christian monastery at the bottom of Lake Issyk-kul. Photo: The Serbian Times

Based on ancient reports, the Greek Orthodox believes Matthew’s remains are at this monastery and that Matthew was martyred while on a missionary journey to India preaching the Gospel.

The Serbian Times quotes Greek Orthodox representative Vladimir Metropolitan of Tashkent and Central-Asia as describing the circumstances this way:

‘St Matthew died in Syria. His followers, escaping from Rome’s persecutions, brought the relics of the Apostle to this land. The sanctity was kept in an abbey, located on a beach of Issyk-Kul and all the Christian world knew about this fact.’

However, Roman Catholics believe Matthew’s remains are in a tomb at the Salerno Cathedral in Italy, dedicated to the Apostle.

Matthew, who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, originally went by the name of Levi and was part of the priestly tribe and a tax collector in Capernaum before Jesus called him as a disciple.

Other than his conversion and a party held at his house after he decided to join Jesus (Matthew 9:9-13), Matthew’s name is only found in lists of the apostle where he is ranked either seventh or eighth. He is not mentioned in the book of Acts during the formative days of the early church.

Matthew’s Gospel has a number of Rabbinical thoughts and Old Testament references and it’s believed he wrote the Gospel for a Jewish audience. It is the only Gospel that uses the Greek word for “church” (ekklesia) to describe the body of believers.

The phrase “until this day” (Matthew 27:8 and 28:15), suggests Matthew wrote his Gospel sometime after the death and resurrection of Christ. One ancient text implies he wrote it while in Syria.

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