Prepare to get dizzy as we take you through the world’s oldest church, which was discovered only in 1998.
Let’s Have a Tour Inside the Oldest Church in the World
Churches have long been architect enthusiasts’ favorite musings. It’s hard to keep your eyes off of the design and architectural marvels that have come out of this space. Art, in this case, truly brings us closer to godliness. Some of the oldest churches in the world have proven to be the most inspiring works of art.
There has been a lot of speculation regarding the oldest church in the world. Some of the oldest churches include St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Italy, which hosts thousands and thousands of tourists from across the world, especially the Catholics who are known to believe that this is where St Peter’s tomb resides. Constructed first in 333 AD, the church underwent a massive renovation in the 15th century, which brought out the marvelous design of the structure, making the experience for Renaissance experts and students alike a memorable experience.
Another church that is considered one of the oldest is the Church of St Peter in Turkey. Literally carved out of Mount Starius, this church is also home to an intriguing tunnel underneath, which is covered in frescoes and mosaics. Yet another, Westminster Abbey in London — that is a World Heritage Site — evokes poetry in the form of its splendid architecture.
Before we get lost in the sea of iconic churches across the world, let’s gather our attention to the oldest church in the world, which was found in Jordan in as recently as 1998. Scientific tests have stated that the construction of the church dates back to 33 AD to 70 AD!
Before the discovery of this structure, the oldest church was thought to be the Church of Holy Sepulchre, located in Jerusalem, along with the Church of Nativity, located in Bethlehem. Both these churches are known to have been built in the late 320s. While the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a lesson in the amalgamation of several architectural influences — from Romanesque to Byzantine — the Church of Nativity is a confluence of Byzantine and Justinian. Both of these examples are elaborate, ornate and lavish in nature.
The discovery of the Saint Georgeous church of Aqaba, a coastal town in Jordan, has led for the art history, architecture and archeology world to take a relook at the ancient forms of spaces, and how they were used. Unlike the Church of Holy Sepulchre and Church of Nativity, the oldest church in Jordan brings to us a very different picture of houses of worship and their functionality. This, of course, also means that the whole debate around the existence of Christianity has been brought into a new light. But for now, we will focus on this piece of discovery.
Let’s take a tour of this fascinating piece of architecture, whatever remains of it:
The Oldest Church in the World is in Jordan
Jordan is often seen as the country which has one of the most significant architectural treasures. The city of Petra, in fact, has opened up the world of ancient structures that give a glimpse of a heritage that was lost for hundreds of years, until they were excavated. The church, this time, was dug out in a coastal city called Aqaba in June 1998. The city itself is rife with history and culture.
Located in the southernmost tip of Jordan, Aqaba is significant for the country’s economy because of the spate of tourists it brings in every year. And it is historical marvels such as the church of Aqaba that garners so much popularity. It also has a deep-rooted influence of Christianity, which brings us to the fact that it is the perfect location to have the oldest church in the world.
It was Built for the Sole Purpose of Being a Church
Its structural components denote that this is, arguably, the oldest structure built with the sole purpose of spreading and serving the message of Christianity. Data states that the building was built for a faith that found favor with the adjoining Roman empire.
It Goes Way Back to the 3rd Century
Finding their way through the dust and mud, the archeologists unearthed this marvel that is now believed to go back to as far as the 3rd century — more precisely between AD 33 and AD 70. It is also believed that the chapel, based on scientific results, was once home to Jesus Christ’s disciples — 70 of them. In fact, the belief was substantiated with a detail on the mosaic at the church, which depicts 70 of those who were loved by God. Those disciples are also believed to have fled to the northern part of Jordan as a result of the been persecuted by Jerusalem’s Christians.
It Was an Underground Chapel
As archeologists have discovered, the oldest church in the world was, in fact, an underground space near the border of Syria, wherein the disciples are said to have practiced their rites and rituals. The evidence to substantiate these claims by the archeologists are seen in the form of terracotta pottery which dates back to the same time period. In fact, there were circular arrangements, which are said to have been where the altar must have been, along with a seating arrangement made of stone. There even was a cistern for the provision of water.
The Architecture of the Oldest Church of the World
The architecture of this space has fascinated both the believers and the critics. Unlike the ancient churches that have been excavated in Jordan, this one was special in terms of its structure. In fact, leading archeologists identified a rather basilical manner of construction, one that has an east-facing coordination. The excavators also found glass lamps. The fact that a cross made of bronze was found at a burial ground situated just adjacent to the main structure, reiterated the belief that the ruins indeed belonged to the faith of Christianity.
The archeologists have also found out remains of a staircase, which gives us hints that there might have been the second story. Even though most of the church is destroyed, it has left behind some of the most fascinating clues to the original form and structure. For instance, the archeologists found a box full of coins, shards of glass, which was a part of glass lamps of the time, and a burial ground with 24 sets of bones.
The initial glimpses of the church obviously say a lot. It is not elaborate, at all, neither are its features ornamental in any way. The open layout gives a fair idea of how the core function of the church was very utilitarian in nature. The size of the church, additionally, brings out the fact that it wasn’t meant to accommodate a lot of members — 6o at most. Although, later on, it is said to have accommodated about 100 members.
The staircase, additionally, features seven stone risers. A little more excavation also revealed black and red flecks of paint on the walls, which, archeologists say, used to be a part of fresco.
Glimpses of Rituals Conducted Within the World’s Oldest Church
Because of the physical remains of the period, the archeologists have managed to piece together what kind of life and rituals the 70 disciples must have had at the time. For one, the ancient believers are said to perform Christian rituals that were observed by the Roman Empire. These rites and rituals, additionally, were done in complete secrecy, in order for the practitioners to escape persecution.
A lot is yet to be discovered about this marvelous piece of construction. Criticism and speculations are rife, for obvious reasons. One of the criticisms is aimed at the way the archeologists have turned every piece of information into a full-length story, which has led to the debates around aggrandization of facts.
One has to remember that a lot of archeological findings come from the site itself. Aqaba is situated next to the Red Sea, which means that trade was one of its key features back in the day. Before it was abandoned and destroyed by an earthquake, only to be recovered in 1998, the church of Aqaba is also believed to have been used for purposes other than Christian activities.
In 1116, the Crusaders took over the town and, for the longest time, it was nothing but a fishing village. The discovery of the oldest church in the world, then, brings back the focus to the conspicuity of the region, and the fact that it was, at some point, a critical juncture where religion and empire politics met with a confluence.
While the move to publicize the oldest church in the world has been touted as sensationalist, a peg to draw in more tourists, the church itself holds a fascination for many. A lot of research and study is required, yes, but whatever little has been done, seems to have sent a positive message altogether.