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A Bit of Church History in Central Park

August 27, 2009

Recently I was in New York City for a business trip, and I decided to go on a little hunt to find something I had recently read about. One of the most important cities of the ancient Roman Empire was Alexandria in North Africa, and within the city was a large complex called the Caesareum. Situated on a hill overlooking the harbor, the estate was prime real estate, and had originally been constructed by Cleopatra for Antony. Augustus later completed the temple and dedicated it to the cult of the Caesars. Standing on either side of the entrance to the temple complex were twin obelisks. They were much older than the Caesareum itself, having been erected in Heliopolis around 1500 B.C., but  moved by Augustus over a millennium later to adorn the Caesareum.

The 71 foot tall, 244 ton obelisks sat in that same spot until the nineteenth century, when the Egyptian government gave one of the obelisks to the United States. The wealthy William H. Vanderbilt financed the project of moving the obelisk to the New York City, where it now sits in Central Park, tucked into an out-of-the-way corner behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The obelisk’s journey to it’s present location was a tedious one. It took four months just to get it from the banks of the Hudson to Central Park. Today it’s known as Cleopatra’s Needle and is the oldest man-made object in Central Park. For more info, click here and here.

What does all this have to do with church history, you ask? Well, in 360, the Caesareum became the Cathedral of Alexandria, and served as the residence for the Christian bishops of the city. Thus, these twin obelisks sat on either side of the entrance to bishop Cyril’s residence in the fifth century. Since I am planning to study Cyril’s exegetical writings for my doctoral work, I thought it would be worth while to track down the obelisk. I found it, and took a picture to prove it. Here’s a picture below. It just goes to show you that church history is all around you, sometimes in the most unexpected of places. (see Thomas G. Weinandy and Daniel A. Keating, eds., The Theology of Cyril of Alexandria: A Critical Appreciation, p.228, fn.48)

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park, NYC

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park, NYC

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 27, 2009 9:26 pm

    Being the history buff that I am, I find this article interesting in that the author showed his zeal for history that he was willing to take time out of his business trip to track down this historic monument. I hope that I too will one day be able to track down objects from foreign lands that compel me to love history.

  2. August 27, 2009 10:44 pm

    Oh man, Matt! Your adventure reminds me of the time Dr. Randall Bush promised me a whole British Pound if I could track down the elusive location of Roger Bacon’s memorial plaque in Oxford! Indeed, Gregory Poore and I found it, though not without having to pay off some local informants in one of Oxford’s somewhat shady neighborhoods! It was well worth it nevertheless!


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