marre nga: Center for Documentation and Information
on Minorities in Europe - Southeast Europe (CEDIME-SE)
This report was researched and written by Rajwantee Lakshman-Lepain, Researcher of CEDIME-SE
1. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
1.1.        Important historical developments
The question regarding the introduction of Christianity into the territory of modern Albania should be distinguished from the one on the Christianization of the Albanian people, which is linked to the very origin of the Albanians. Many outside authors confuse the two issues, misled by Albanian historians who assume continuity of population from the first centuries of the Christian era to the days of modern Albania. Most western historians, especially in the past two decades, have discarded such continuity. In this report, the discussion starts with the introduction of Christianity in Albania and then the Christianization of the first Albanians is discussed.
Introduction of Christianity in the territory of present-day Albania
From the 1st to the 5th century
The concept of Albania as such had no real reference at the time when Christianity was introduced in the region. This region was a province of the Roman Empire, which changed its administrative organization throughout its existence. It was part of a large province, the province of Illyria, which included the entire eastern Adriatic coast - from the south of Trieste to the north of Greece. Early Christian sources refer to this area as Illyricum. For this reason, Catholic and non-Catholic sources alike confuse the history of the Illyrian territories with the history of the Albanian people. This confusion is due to the fact that during Communism Albanian historians supported the theory that modern Albanians are direct descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who, however, had already disappeared when the Romans conquered the region.
According to Catholic sources, which refer to the New Testament and traditions, Christianity was introduced in Albania during the time of the apostles. Saint Paul is said to have spread Christs message in South Illyria. According to Gregory of Naziance, Saint Andrea preached in Epirus. Since 58 AD, the town of Durrs (Dyrrachium) has been an Episcopal See, with Apollonios as its first bishop (Rance, 1997: 47-48).
At the end of the first century, the Christian communities of the Illyrian region gained authority, a fact that drew the attention of the authorities. Persecutions started under Trajan (98-117). According to the Catholics, one of the famous martyrs of the time was Saint Astio, Bishop of Durrachium. His death is commemorated on July seventh. When Hadrien (117-138) came to power, Saint Florin and Saint Laurin were executed in Ulpiana (today Prishtin). In the following years, Diocletien (284-305) almost exterminated the Christian community, which was resurrected under the rule of the Christian Constantin the First (Rance, 1997: 48).
In 313 in Milan, Constantin and Licinius proclaimed officially the freedom of worship. This seemed to be the beginning of a new revival for the Christians of Illyricum. As a consequence, new bishoprics were opened: Diocleia (Podgorica) in Montenegro and Ochrida (Ohrid). In 387, Shkodra (Shkodr in the north of modern Albania) became an archbishopric. In 325, Illyria was able to send several bishops to the Council of Nice. The bishops condemned arianism as a heresy and defined the Credo. The Credo reflects the influence of the Illyrian Church at the time. The region was also touched by various religious cults condemned by Rome.
In 395, following the division of the Roman Empire by Theodose, the Illyrian territories came under Byzantine political rule. In terms of religious authority, they were still dependent on Rome. This was an important factor for the future of the region. The border that first separated the Western and the Eastern Empire, and subsequently, Catholicism and Christian Orthodoxy, was a line through the present-day Albanian territory. This line was shifted a great deal during the next millennium. Thus, the Albanian territories were for a while under Eastern (Byzantine) influence, and then under Western influence. This explains why present-day Albanians do not have either a strong Catholic or a strong Orthodox identity. Albania remains a land of several faiths and religions where Islam co-exists with Christianity (Catholicism and Orthodoxy). Albania has always been at the center of the conflicts of the two Churches. This also explains the reason that Catholics are found exclusively in the north of Albania and Orthodox Christians in the south.
Between the fourth and fifth centuries, all of the so-called Albanian-inhabited areas had been Christianized and fifty bishoprics were opened (Xhuxha, 1995: 128; Ramet, 1998: 202; Poghirc, 1987: 178). Most probably, Christianity was widespread in the urban centers, whereas paganism was still influential in the rural and mountainous areas.