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Dura-Europos

The Dura-Europos church in Eastern Syria is the earliest identified Christian house church and one of the earliest known Christian churches. It was apparently a normal domestic house converted for worship some time between 233 and 256, when the town was abandoned after conquest by the Persians.

The surviving frescoes of the room serving as the baptistry include the "Good Shepherd," the "Healing of the paralytic" and "Christ and Peter walking on the water," considered the earliest depictions of Jesus. An image heretofore considered a depiction of the Samaritan woman who speaks to Jesus by the well is now thought to be the oldest image of the Blessed Mother.

The early church of Aqaba, Jordan

Aqaba Church is a historic 3rd-century church located in  Jordan. It was unearthed in 1998 by a group of archaeologists. Its first phase was dated between 293 and 303, which makes it older than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, both of which were built in the late 320s.

Its peripheral location within the Roman Empire is likely to have saved it from destruction during the Great Persecution that broke out just a few years after the church's construction.

The world's oldest cathedral

Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, located in the city of Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armenia. According to scholars, it was the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia, and is considered the oldest cathedral in the world.

The original church was built in the early 4th century—between 301 and 303 according to tradition—by Armenia's patron saint, Gregory the Illuminator, following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion by King Tiridates III. It was built over a pagan temple, symbolizing the conversion from paganism to Christianity. The core of the current building was built in 483/4 by Vahan Mamikonian after the cathedral was severely damaged in a Persian invasion. From its foundation until the second half of the 5th century, Etchmiadzin was the seat of the Catholicos, the supreme head of the Armenian Church.

Etchmiadzin is the main shrine of Armenian Christians worldwide and was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.

St. Sarkis monastery, Syria

Built on the remains of a pagan temple, the monastery of St. Sergius (Mar Sarkis) likely predates the Council of Nicea (325) as evidenced by the fact that it has a round altar, which was prohibited at the Council, according to Sacred Destinations. It is dedicated to St. Sergius, a Roman soldier who was executed for his Christian beliefs.

Now a Greek Catholic monastery, St. Sarkis has a chapel with a beautiful display of icons but unfortunately suffered extensive damage and desecration in the Syrian Civil War.

 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Construction on this, one of the most famous churches in Christianity, was begun after St. Helena found the Cross of Christ and the burial place of Jesus in Jerusalem. The church contains the two holiest sites in Christendom: Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and the empty tomb from which he rose on the third day. The tomb is enclosed by the 19th-century shrine called the Aedicule, which recently underwent a major renovation.

Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Around the time Constantine the Great and his mother, Helena, were building the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, six miles to the south in Bethlehem they began building on the site that was traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. The original basilica was completed sometime between 333-339. It was destroyed by fire during the Samaritan revolts of the 6th century, and a new basilica was built in 565 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who restored the architectural tone of the original.

Mar Mattai, Iraq

The Syriac Orthodox Monastery of St. Matthew, founded in 363, is located on Mount Alfaf in northern Iraq, 20 kilometers from Mosul. The hermit Mar Mattai had fled persecution under the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate. According to Syriac tradition, he was involved in healing the sister of Mor Behnam and converting the brother and sister to Christianity. Their father, King Sinharib of Assyria, awarded Mattai a place atop Mount Alfaf to establish this monastery.

The Kasagh Basilica, Armenia

The Kasagh Basilica, formally known as the Holy Cross Church, is an early medieval Armenian church in the town of Aparan in the Aragatsotn Province of Armenia. It is dated by scholars to the 4th or 5th century. It was originally within the grounds of the Persian Arsacid (Arshakuni) dynasty palace. The church was partly restored in 1877.

Mor Gabriel, Turkey

Mor Gabriel Monastery is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world. It is located on the Tur Abdin plateau near Midyat in the Mardin Province in southeastern Turkey. The monastery was founded in 397 by the ascetic Mor Shmu'el (Samuel) and his student Mor Shem'un (Simon). The monastery is an important center for the Syrian Christians of Tur Abdin and is currently the seat of the metropolitan bishop of Tur Abdin. In its history the monastery has produced many high-ranking clerics and scholars, among them four patriarchs and 84 bishops.

St. Peter's Cave Church in Antioch

"So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch," we read in Acts 11. "For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians."

Some believe that this cave, on the side of Mount Starius near Antakya (Antioch), Turkey, is where those first Christians gathered. Christian tradition considers the Apostle Peter to be the founder of the Church of Antioch.

The oldest surviving parts of St. Peter's Cave Church date from at least the 4th or 5th century, according to Wikipedia, which adds, "The tunnel inside which opens to the mountainside is thought to have served the Christians for evacuation of the church in case of sudden raids and attacks. Water which seeps from the nearby rocks was gathered inside to drink and to use for baptism; flow of this water, which visitors drank and collected to give to those who were ill (believing that it was healing and curative), has lessened as a result of recent earthquakes."
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