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Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch
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Ancient underground church uncovered in Turkey, but another ancient church is damaged

February,5 2016

An ancient underground church, built into the rocks, has been uncovered in Turkey’s Cappadocia region during excavation work on Nevsehir Castle. But another ancient church was damaged in an attack in south-eastern Turkey.

Derinkuyu underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey
The discovery of this church in Nevsehir, in conjunction with the discoveries of many other cave churches in the valleys of Cappadocia, provides a glimpse into the lives of our persecuted forefathers in the faith. The church has frescoes with scenes apparently never before seen in any other frescoes, says Hasan Anver, mayor of Nevsehir city.

“There are exciting depictions like fish falling from the hand of Jesus Christ, him rising up into the sky, and the bad souls being killed,” he said – the last two ostensibly referring to the ascension of Jesus and the final judgement.

Excavation work has halted until the better weather of spring arrives so that humidity does not damage the frescoes when the earth is dug away. At present, only the roof and tops of the walls are visible.

Several other ancient churches have been discovered in Cappadocia, in Anatolia (Asia Minor), but this one is thought to be the biggest so far. It is built inside the castle at the very center of Nevsehir city. The underground city was discovered in 2014 and is the largest known underground city in the world.

The church is thought to date back as far as the fifth century and indicates an ancient Christian presence in the area. In fact, the early church in Cappadocia is referred to in the Bible. Acts 2:9 records the presence of Jews from Cappadocia in Jerusalem at Pentecost. And 1 Peter 1:1 includes Cappadocia among the list of places to which persecuted Christians were scattered. Cappadocia was also a major center of early Christian learning.

Christians fleeing cruel persecution under the Roman Empire fled to Cappadocia, and built intricate underground cities, several of them linked by tunnels. The Cappadocia city of Derinkuyu has eleven underground levels, for example, and miles of tunnels. Over 200 underground villages have been discovered so far. In the Byzantine era, monks extended the underground cities as persecution raged.

The tiny Christian minority in modern-day Turkey continues to face discrimination, although today this is due to the government’s ambition to Islamise Turkish politics and society.

Christians forced out of Diyarbakir
Fighting in the city of Diyarbakir, in south-eastern Turkey, has forced Christians from this city that was once home to thousands of believers. Part of the wall of an ancient church in the city’s Sur district was damaged in the fighting.

“My wife and I managed to escape the church just moments ago with great difficulty,” the church leader told the World Council of Arameans on 28 January. “A few days ago, we already sent our children away in order to put them in safety … We heard the fighting coming closer to us and we felt the ground shaking more and more … we both decided that we had to run for our lives … Now we have little hope left that there can be a future for us, … to stay in the land of our forefathers.”

Historically, a third of the population of Diyarbakir was Christian. However, the city was targeted in the early years of the Christians genocide in which over 750,000 Syriac and 1.5 million Armenians martyred a century ago.
Nevit Dilmen


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The Western Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, providing spiritual guidance and leadership to the Syriac Orthodox community, is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, tax-exempt organization comprised of 18 churches and parishes in 17 western states. It was established in 1952 as the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church encompassing the entire United States and Canada. In November 1995 by the Holy Synod, the Western Archdiocese was formed to exclusively serve the 17 states of the western half United States.

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