The Spread of Syriac
Syrian missionaries, primarily from the Eastern Syriac church (the Church of the East, or the “Nestorian” Church), extended their reach as far as Central Asia, India and China, leaving behind a Christian material culture that has survived to this day. For example, the famous 8th-century “Nestorian Stele,” unearthed in eastern China during the first half of the 17th century, pairs Syriac and Chinese inscriptions detailing the “propagation in China of the luminous religion from Daqin [the Roman Near East].” There were two peak periods in the Syrian missionaries’ activities: the 7th to 9th centuries and the 13th to early 14th centuries. During the second of these phases, which coincided with the Mongol Conquest, missionaries benefitted from the Mongol dynasties’ tolerance of religious minorities.
Whereas Syriac missionaries accessed China and Mongolia via the Silk Road through Central Asia, they traveled to India by sea from Iran. At present, India is home to the world’s largest Syrian Christian communities, numbering around 5,000,000 people in total.