Sunday, May 8, 2011

Exciting News: Turkey Cultivates Sites of Its Christian Heritage

Professor Celal Simsek, head of the excavation team, briefs government officials on the church building in Laodicea dating from 313-320 AD. (Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire in 313 AD). The major part of the church covers 2,000 square metres and parts of it are in good condition. It was found by underground radar search.

All who are interested in early Church history must be excited about the current ecumenical and inter-faith initiatives in Turkey, which have had begun to use Anatolia’s Christian heritage as a way of drawing visitors and - admittedly - of cultivating an image of the nation as a meeting-point of civilizations.

A few days ago AN ARTICLE appeared in the New York Times describing huge local investment in the restoration of sites that belong to the heritage - the "family history" - of every Christian. The fact that a massive increase in tourism will bring its own considerable economic and cultural benefits ought not dampen our enthusiasm for this project. Here are two extracts from the article:

. . . A case in point is the ancient metropolis of Laodicea, in southwestern Turkey, where Turkish archaeologists unearthed a spectacular church dating to the early fourth century.

“This is one of the oldest churches in the world to survive in its original state,” said Celal Simsek, the archaeologist who is leading the excavation team that has worked through the winter to reveal the huge church that was first spotted underground last year on a radar scan. “When the 10 most important archaeological discoveries of the 21st century are totted up one day, this church will definitely be on the list.”

Mr. Simsek dates the construction of the church to between 313 and 320 A.D., immediately after the Edict of Milan, by which Emperor Constantine I of Rome legalized Christianity in the year 313.

Scrambling around the church, which has 10 towering pillars on a floor area of 2,000 square meters, or 21,500 square feet, flawlessly preserved mosaic floors and a walk-in baptismal fountain for mass christenings, Mr. Simsek said he was hoping to invite the pope to the official unveiling of the restored church, tentatively planned for next year.

. . . It is a vein of tourism that other towns in heritage-rich Anatolia have begun to invest in as well. The small northwestern town of Iznik, which has long marketed itself on the fine tiles produced there in Ottoman times, now evokes its former incarnation as Nicaea, site of two of the seven Ecumenical Councils that shaped the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

All seven councils were held on what is now Turkish soil — the two in Nicaea, three in Constantinople, now Istanbul, one in Ephesus in western Turkey and one in Chalcedon, the modern-day Kadikoy district of Istanbul on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus. Last year, Iznik invited historians from the Vatican to join a search for the exact location of the first Council of Nicaea, at which bishops from all over the Roman Empire gathered in 325 to draft the creed that is recited by Christians around the world to this day.

The Nicaean church in which the seventh Council dispatched iconoclasm in the year 787 has been roofed and restored . . .


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