Archaeologists find oldest Orthodox Christian church
Posted on Tue Jun 10 2008
The Jordan Times reports that a group of archaeologists have unearthed the
world's oldest Orthodox Christian church in Rihab, Jordan. Rihab is in
Northern Jordan. Rihab is home to a total of 30 churches and Jesus and the
Virgin Mary are believed to have passed through the area.
The church, which was built underground, dates to somewhere between 33 and
70 AD. Rihab is located about 30 miles east of the Jordan River and a
roughly equal distance north of the Jordanian capital, Amman. The region is
home to 30 other ancient churches.
"We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world,
dating from 33 AD to 70 AD,"
Abdul Qader al-Husan, the head of Jordain's Center for Archaeological
He said it was uncovered under Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates
back to 230 AD, in Rihab in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.
"We have evidence to believe this church sheltered early Christians -- the
70 disciples of Jesus Christ," Husan said.
These Christians, who are described in a mosaic as "the 70 beloved by God
and Divine," are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded
churches in northern Jordan, Husan added.
He cited historical sources which suggest they both lived and practiced
Christian rituals in the underground church and only left it after
Christianity was embraced by the Roman Empire.
Archimandrite Nektarious, a representative of the Greek Orthodox Church,
described the discovery as an "important milestone for Christians all around
Researchers recovered pottery dating back to between the 3rd and 7th
centuries, which they say suggests these first Christians and their
followers lived in the area until late Roman rule.
Inside the cave a circular area of worship with stone seats separated from
living quarters were found. This circular element, called an apse, is
important says Dr Al-Hassan because there is only one other example of a
cave with a similar feature, which was also used for Christian worship. The
stone seats are believed to have been for the use of clergy.
Al-Hassan said: "We found beautiful things. I found the cemetery of this
church; we found pottery shards and lamps with the inscription 'Georgeous'".
There is also a tunnel that leads to a cistern which supplied water to the
dwellers. The excavation of the tunnel and the cistern may yield yet more
evidence about the lives of these early Christians.
"From the tunnel to the cistern is very important. We want to clean it and
make an excavation inside it. We found a very old inscription beside it and
coins also, and crosses made from iron."
Other experts say they are cautious about the claim. They want to examine
the artifacts and obtain solid dating evidence. The earliest confirmed
examples of churches date from the third century.