The tremor may have shaken the seats of the high and mighty for a thousand miles around, yet it is the story of this humble Christian family, living in the town of Kourion, which reaches across more than sixteen centuries and touches us in a way no ancient chronicler’s account of the catastrophe ever could.
Archaeologists shall never know whether the people who actually lived in the palatial, yet dilapidated residence at the time of the Kourion earthquake were tenants of its original owners or squatters who chose the somewhat damaged house as their abode.
View of Kourion's Coastal Cliffs
from the Earthquake House
Whatever the case may be, it is known that at least some, but probably all of them, were Christians. This was made abundantly clear by the discovery of a small bronze ring, inscribed with the Monogram of Christ (Chi-Rho) next to the crushed remains of a father who died protecting his young family.
As the house and its residents were unearthed by Professor David Soren and his team from the University of Arizona, a clearer picture of that fateful morning’s events gradually began to unfold.
The Earthquake House seen from the Amphitheater Hillside
Sometime around, or just before, dawn on July 21st 365AD, the home’s inhabitants were awakened by the ceaseless braying of a mule, tethered to a heavy stone trough in one of the house’s inner rooms which was serving as a makeshift stable at the time, the animal apparently having sensed the coming disaster before the actual event, as has often been documented in the past.
At this point one of the home’s residents, a thirteen year old girl - affectionately named ‘Camelia’ by the archaeological team – went to see what was causing the upset, and to calm the frightened beast. In an adjacent room an older man and woman were going about the morning’s business. In all likelihood they were Camelia’s parents, who had also been awakened by the noise and were now readying themselves for a day they would never live to see.
Meanwhile, across the building’s small courtyard, in a tiny, single-storey annex to the main house, a young family had been sleeping. They too had been roused by the clamoring mule in its stable less than twenty feet away, and were now laying together savoring the relatively cool morning air before the onset of the day’s oppressive summer heat. The nineteen year old mother, possibly Camelia’s sister, was resting on her right side, cradling her eighteen month old baby in her arm, while her husband was laying close behind her.
The Earthquake House with the place where the
Christian family was found marked by the Chi-Rho
It was then that the first, and weakest, of the earthquake’s three waves hit, lasting four seconds, dislodging roof tiles, showering plaster from walls and ceilings, and destabilizing the already damaged structure.
The force of this tremor threw Camelia to the ground, as large amounts of flying debris caused her considerable injuries and dislodged her silver-plated hair pin, identical to that worn by her mother, from her head.
In the neighboring room, Camelia’s parents too were thrown from their feet by the initial quake’s force as pots were launched from their shelves, and plaster dust made the air thick and unbreathable when the house settled into the eerie silence which marked the end of the initial shock and the beginning of the brief five second interlude before the second, devastating quake.
Left disorientated, injured, and trapped in a dark, confined space with a terrified mule, Camelia made an attempt at escape during these moments by trying to drag herself towards the door. At this stage she probably sustained further injuries, as the mule, now maddened beyond all control, trampled her in its own rush for survival. Her parents never regained their footing, but lay huddled where they had fallen, shielding themselves with their arms as best they could against further flying debris from the disintegrating house.
Having been caught in bed by the first tremor, the young family across the courtyard would probably not have suffered quite as much disorientation as the people in the main house. The mother grasped her child to her breast, its head resting on her right shoulder and its hands tightly clinging to her. At this point, the husband grabbed his wife and child and enveloped them with his own left arm.
After the trembling subsided, he would have barely had enough time to assure them that this was only another one of the minor tremors frequently experienced on the island, and that the danger had passed, when the second, massive quake hit…
Click to continue reading about the Kourion Earthquake
Central View of the Earthquake House
Fallen Columns in the Courtyard
Christian Family's Room across the Courtyard
The Father's Bronze Ring
View along the Market Buidling's front wall
Kourion Market Building
The House was completely destroyed within 20 seconds of the 1st tremor.
Towards Kourion Agora