History

20 oldest churches in the world and their histories

Churches are one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. From the earliest times, civilizations and cultures have come together for worship, and many of these ancient structures still exist today. Here’s a look at some of the oldest churches in the world.

  1. Church of Megiddo

oldest churches in the world

“Mount Tabor, Megiddo, Bethlehem” by stuartpike is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Age Built: Late Third to Early Fourth century AD

Location: Tel Megiddo, Israel

Denomination:  Christian

Today: Ruins

One of the most interesting features of Megiddo church is that it was built on the site of a modern prison.

Archaeologists started excavating the site and discovered some remarkable information. The building was a rectangular structure, and archaeologists have found a well-preserved painting and many other Christian artifacts.

The language of the words engraved on this mosaic is Greek, and it also contains fish, the early symbol of Christianity. Experts believe that the site was not a church at first, but turned into a church in the early 4th century.

  1. Santa Maria Trastevere

oldest churches in the world

“Santa Maria Trastevere” by EvelynHill is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Santa Maria trastevere is one of the oldest churches in world. The church itself has a combination of architecture dating from the 3rd and 12th centuries, which in turn attracts many visitors from all over the world every year. The interior of the church is filled with beautiful paintings with a gold façade, as well as a Romanesque bell tower.

The church itself is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and its 12th-century paintings illustrate this. These six colors, made by Pietro Cavallini, also tell the story of the life of Mary, and serve as an important place in the church.

  1. Cathedral Of Trier

oldest churches in the world

“Cathedral of Trier / Trierer Dom” by Eisbäärchen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This extraordinary cathedral dates back to the 4th century. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Germany and attracts many because it is the largest church in Trier. This is not the only reason why so many travel to the Cathedral of Trier, however – it is believed that fragments of the robe of Christ are found here, called ‘the Holy robe.’ Although it is mentioned in the 12th century, fragments of clothing were not found until centuries later.

Today, this residue remains locked in the appendix and is released at extremely special times. It is not the only sanctuary found in this temple however, as a nail from Cruxification is said to have been found here too, called the ‘Holy Nail.

  1. St Peter Basilica

oldest churches in the world

“St. Peter’s Basilica – Rome” by Lorenzoclick is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the most visited and oldest churches in the world, as well as its location at the Vatican, is part of that. St. Peter’s Basilica is also known for its great size, which includes many historical and sacred points of interest for many who make the trip there. The church was built in the year 333 but was rebuilt in the 16th century, still making it one of the largest Roman churches. One of the reasons why this church is so important is because it is believed to have been built on the tomb of St. Peter.

The church is still in use and one of the most prominent features of the central balcony, the Loggia della Benedizione, is used by the Pope when addressing the public. Inside the church, visitors can see 13 statues next to its building, including Christmas Redeemer and St. John the Baptist. The interior walls of the church are also impressive, with historically significant features in their art and the artists behind them. Michaelangelo was responsible for the Pieta, the most famous Renaissance portrait, and also the Baldachin, a Bernini crafted with bronze from the Pantheon.

  1. St Anthony monastery

oldest churches in the world

“St. Anthony’s Monastery – St. George’s Chapel – Roof” by kyu6050 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Saint Anthony’s monastery was built in the 4th century in 356 and is still a monument to this day, home to more than a hundred monks. The church’s first goal was to become a place where St Anthony’s followers could meet randomly and eventually grow from there. Before the monastery was built followers gathered in a cave in the wilderness of Egypt; now, the monastery includes a bakery, a garden oasis, and a library.

The same traditions still apply today, with the restoration of many monastic churches. Visitors who visit the monastery often referred to as pilgrims on a pilgrimage to this sacred place, can attend tours to its ancient halls, including a collection of ancient Coptic painting that adorn the wall above the Saint’s tomb.

  1. Dura-Europos Church – Dura-Europos, Syria

Dura-Europos is known as one of the oldest churches in the world, dating to 235 AD. It was discovered in the 20th century by some ingenious archaeologists. A notable feature of the church is the numerous paintings that include statues of the Good Shepherd, David and Goliath, Adam and Eve, and Christ healing the sick and performing a miracle of faith for which they are best known – walking on water. Dura-Europos has proven to be a gold mine around the area of ​​archaeologists who over the years have found everything from cemeteries to temples to military equipment.

  1. Etchmiadzin Cathedral, Armenia

oldest churches in the world

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6766459

The Etchmiadzin cathedral bears the distinction of being one of the oldest churches in the world ever built by the state. Located in Armenia (the first Christian country in the world) and still active, it is the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It was built by Saint Gregory the Illuminator between 301 and 303 AD in what is now known as the Armenian style, known for its emphasis on height, architecture, and stone building materials. The idea of ​​a place is said to have come to St. Gregory in the vision he had of Christ hitting the ground with a gold hammer. Etchmiadzin translates it as “the place where only begotten descended.”

  1. Peter Church – Antakya, Turkey

Located in the area known as Antioch, the church was engraved on the side of Mount Starius. At 42 ft, 31 ft wide and 23 ft long, it definitely required a lot of digging to finish. It includes the altar, the frescoes, and the stones cut down from the cave. A tunnel built inside the church provided visitors with an escape route as needed. The church is mentioned in the Bible book of Acts, and its worshipers were the first to be called Christians making it to be one of the oldes churches in the world.

  1. Church of the nativity

oldest churches in the world

“Church of the Nativity of Our Lady (in front) – Vitoslavlitsy wooden museum, Novgorod” by w0LD is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The church is located in Bethlehem and the construction of this church began in 325 AD. Today the Church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been rebuilt. It is considered to be the home of four monastic communities that include Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic. It is astonishing that the church is still standing in the midst of one of the biggest conflicts in the entire Middle East.

  1. Mar Sarkas

Although the exact date of construction is not clear but it predates 325 AD and it still stands today in Maalula, Syria as a convent and monastery. Mar Sarkas is one of the oldest monasteries in the Christian religion. It is home to precious icons traced back to the 4th century. The palace is not open to the public but they did show visitors around when asked.

  1. Aqaba Church

Aqaba Church was discovered by archaeologists in 1998 and is considered to be one of the oldest Christian Churches in the world. It was built in the early third century. During the excavations of the Aqaba, in Jordan they discovered tombs with more than 20 skeletal remains, coins in a collection box and large enough to hold at least 60 people when it was first built.

  1. Stavrovouni Palace (327-329)

The Stavrovouni Monastery is situated on the summit of Stavrovouni, the ‘Mountain of the Cross’. Built sometime between 327 and 329, this ancient palace is believed to be the oldest church on the island of Cyprus.

The main reason why visitors take a steep climb up to this mountain castle is because of a piece of Holy Cross stored inside solid silver inside the church. It was thought to have been returned by St. Helena – the mother of Emperor Constantine – after her visit to Jerusalem.

While women are not allowed into the monastery, the trip is worth a look at the plains of Mesaoria alone, overlooking the Mediterranean in the distance.

While male visitors explore the monastery with its metal cylinder and arch cloisters, female visitors can visit the small All Saints Church outside.

  1. Mor Gabriel Monastery (397)

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As far back as 397, the Mor Gabriel Monastery is the oldest working Syriac Orthodox monastery on Earth. Located on the plain of Tur Abdin, among the lush vegetation and olive groves of southeastern Turkey, the Christian congregation and the fortress have long served as a refuge.

The monastery, also known as Deyrulumur, provided a home and sanctuary for thousands of Coptic monuments and at one time even had its own province. In the 14th century, it was invaded by the Timur Mongols, and in the 1990’s, hundreds of monks were found buried in caves under the building.

Today, Dayro d-Mor Gabriel is still home to dutiful nuns and monks and is the seat of the metropolitan bishop of Turabdin. It is open to guests during the day, and there is an opportunity to stay overnight, but only with a high level of permission.

  1. Hagia Sophia

oldest churches in the world

“Hagia Sophia – Ayasofya – Αγία Σοφία” by fusion-of-horizons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Age Built: 532 – 537 AD

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Denomination: Christian

Today: Museum

For more than 1,000 years, Hagia Sophia was the largest Christian church. Built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, Hagia Sophia underwent several changes over the years. Originally, the church was a Christian cathedral, but it has also been the largest Greek Orthodox cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral, and also an imperial mosque.

Today, Hagia Sophia still stands, but now it is a museum, not a church. Visitors to Istanbul can visit the museum, and it is estimated that some 10,000 people pass by each day.

  1. Basilica of San Lorenzo, Milan

“Basilica of San Lorenzo” by Trey Ratcliff is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Age Built: Construction began in 364 AD

Location: Milan, Italy

Denomination: Roman Catholic

Today: Still valid

The San Lorenzo Basilica is one of the oldest churches in the world still standing in Milan. When built, this church was the largest construction project the Western world has ever seen. When construction was completed, it was the largest circular congregation in the world, and it was Hagia Sophia’s inspiration.

Today, the Basilica of San Lorenzo is still an active church, and some of the original remains, though much of it has been rebuilt years ago.

  1. Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran

Basilica Church is located in the Diocese, Rome, and was built by Vassalleto.

It is decorated with tomb slabs from the excavation from the roman and Christian era.

Its beauty is described in the central garden. With 36 on each side makes it the biggest cloister in Rome.

The staircase has 28 steps and the top of the window, protected by thick glass, allows you to peer inside holy of hollies.

  1. Saint Domnius Cathedral

“Peristyle, Diocletian’s Palace, with view of Saint Domnius Cathedral Bell Tower, Split, Croatia” by Gwendolyn Stansbury is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Saint dominus Domnius cathedral is located in Croatia, and was built in the 7th century. Roman Emperor Mausoleum established the Church.

The bell tower and the Church together are called Cathedral St. Domnius. Today, this Church stands in its original building, without renewal.

It was built for the emperor in the 4th century with limestone and marble. The first floor of the building contains the treasurer of the cathedral as a Romanesque sacral art and 13th-century painting.

Treasurer also includes items and books. This is built in Remarque style. There is every step of the way to the top of the bell.

  1. Church of the Holy Sepulcher (335)

oldest churches in the world

“The Dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulche” by Jorge Lascar is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Made of wood and stone, the beige Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem is marked by a series of sharp arches adorned with Crusader crosses. It was consecrated in 335, built on two of the most famous sites in Christian history – the Biblical Cavalry Rock (Golgotha) where Christ was crucified, and the Tomb of the Sepulcher.

Also known as Resurrection Sunday, the church is one of the world’s most popular pilgrimage sites. The last four to five stations on the Via Dolorosa, which feature the final episodes of Passion of Jesus, can be found here.

Of the four (possibly five) stations, the most famous is the 12th – the Horse Rock, with its protective glass Altar of the Crucifixion where visitors can touch the sacred rock, and the 14th – Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was buried and resurrected there. Because of its great religious significance, visitors should dress modestly to enter the church.

  1. Panagia Ekatontapiliani (326)

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Panagia Ekatontapiliani, meaning ‘Church with a 100 Doors,’ is one of the most unbelievable Paleo-Christian monuments of the Cyclades. Located on the Greek island of Paros, the Ekatontapiliani complex includes a series of churches, some of which date from 326 AD.

According to legend, there are 99 doors inside the building. The last, a secret door, will be opened when the Hagia Sofia church in Constantinople becomes an Orthodox church again.

  1. Santi cosma e damiano

oldest church in the world

“Rome – Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano – _MG_5312” by indianadinos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Santi Cosma Church in Damiano is a church in Rome, Italy. The lower part of the building is available through the Roman Forum and includes actual Roman buildings, but access to the upper level is outside the Forum. The circular building at the entrance to the Forum, now with a small archaeological exhibition, was built in the early 4th century as a Roman temple. It is thought to have been devoted to Valerius Romulus, the son of Emperor Maxentius. The main building was probably the library of the state forum.

This is a church in 527, one of the oldest churches in the world and contains important early Christian art. Today it is one of the oldest churches in the world called the tituli, in which cardinals are patrons as cardinal deacons. As of 28 November 2020 the title was headed by Cardinal Mario Grech. The church, dedicated to both Arab Christian brothers, doctors, martyrs and saints Cosmas and Damian, is located at the Vespasian Forum, also known as the Peace Forum.

 

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