Editor's Note: This is part of a series of Chinese faith travelogues documenting our family's recent trip to China.
Before our family left for our journey to China, I mentioned to WilmingtonFAVS Bible translations writer Philip Stine that one of our side trips would be to Xian.
"Well, you have to go see the Nestorian Stele, then," he said. He explained the stele or large stone tablet containing a caligraphy record, showed parts of the origins of Christianity in China.
I wasn't sure how we would find it, but somehow, we did.
The Nestorian Stele is one of about 3,000 stone relics containing caligraphy telling the story of different populations and time periods in China inside the Forest of Stone Steles Museum in Xian.
If stone tablets don't sound totally sexy to you, I understand. But to a faith geek like myself, I was riveted.
Many of the steles are actually eight or 10-feet tall blocks of granite or limestone balanced on the back of a giant stone creature - usually a turtle or a lion.
And each tablet tells a story of Chinese culture, history and devotion - religious or filial - that you can't find anywhere else. And for such a record to exist publicly within an atheist state is quite remarkable.
The explainer text of the Nestorian Stele says: "The Nestorian branch of Christianity arrived in China in 635 A.D. (the ninth year of the Zhenguan reign, Tang Dynasty). This tablet records the dissemination of the doctrine and ceremonies of Nestorianism during the 150 years afterward and also the missionaries' names written in Syrian language. This tablet provides the valuable material for studying the cultural exchange between China and a foreign country and the early dissemination of Christianity in China."
Many of the steles document the reign of an emperor or an influential family, but many are devoted to certain master monks.
One stele devoted to Buddhist Master Dade Zhigai of Linghua Temple says: "The inscription gives an account of the deeds of how the Master Dade Zhigai in Linghua Temple passed on the Diamond Sutra to his disciples who remembered him with fond feelings and how the 47 disciples consecrated the Masters' relics. It is the material for studying Buddhism in the early Tang period."
While we were in Xian, another Christian drama was unfolding in Shanghai. An auxiliary bishop in a Shanghai Catholic church publicly resigned from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. His congregation immediately stood and applauded. (watch the video above.) For many years, the Vatican and the Chinese government have butted heads about who has authority to appoint bishops.
All in all, a fascinating time to follow faith in China.