The Story behind the Martyrs: Times of the Roman Asia Minor & Christian Persecutions

Asia Minor is the land, a witness to the challenges and the sufferings of the early Church during its global extension. Asia Minor or as we locals say Anatolia is also known as the“the cradle” of the Church: Anatolia, today’s Turkey perhaps the only land where so many significant events were converged outside of the Holy Land.

During the first three centuries of the Church history, the Roman Empire led 10 major waves of persecutions against Christians: The one led by Diocletian was the worst and brutal:When Diocletian (284-305) Major Empire-Wide Persecution begins ca. 303; confiscation of Christian churches and books; arrest, torture, and execution of many Christian leaders) raised a column with the inscription of “The name Christian is extinguished”, 3000-3500 Christians were executed already. That was recorded as the most intense period of violence in the early Christian history.

Together with some other significant sites in Asia Minor, Nicomedia in particularly (today’s modern Izmir, an important port city close to Istanbul) was target: On 23 February 303, Diocletian ordered that the newly built church at Nicomedia be razed. The very next day, Diocletian’s first “Edict against the Christians” was published. The edict ordered the destruction of Christian scriptures and places of worship across the empire, and prohibited Christians from assembling for worship. Before the end of February, a fire destroyed part of the Imperial palace, and many innocents were executed, including St. Juliana of Nicomedia. A daughter to Emperor’s advisor who is hostile to the Christians, Juliana was secretly accepted holy baptism. Nicomedia was no longer safe…

Nicomedia was the eastern and most senior capital city of the Roman Empire between 286 and 324, during the Tetrarchy introduced by Diocletian. Following Constantine the Great's victory over co-emperor Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopolis in 324, Nicomedia served as an interim capital city for Nova Roma.
Nicomedia was the eastern and most senior capital city of the Roman Empire between 286 and 324, during the Tetrarchy introduced by Diocletian. Following Constantine the Great’s victory over co-emperor Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopolis in 324, Nicomedia served as an interim capital city for Nova Roma

However, persecutions didn’t destroy Christianity, on the contrary, martyrs were canonized and the belief spread like a wildfire. As Tertullian, the father of Latin Christianity said once:“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” Occurred intermittently over a period of about three centuries, persecutions heavily influenced the development of Christianity together with shaping its inner theology and the structure of the Church. At this stage, starting from early 4th century, saints turned to cults- and took their place in manuscripts, arts and religious books: Persecution –martyr theme brought rapid growth and spread of Christianity along-as well as the education, which mainly painted into the walls with storytelling, chronological order of events, life of Jesus Christ and many other early Christian experiences. Since then, many ancient Christians came to believe that “to be Christian was to suffer”: Ignatius, the third bishop of Antioch- perhaps the most famous and known martyr of Asia Minor wrote to all the churches: “I enjoy in all that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you; do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” Ignatius was one of the five apostolic church fathers and his statement was one of the earliest Christian theology samples.  The Martyrdom of Polycarp tells us the same story indeed. Polycarp was the Bishop of the church in Smyrna (today’s Izmir) died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him. This is the earliest chronicle of martyrdom outside the New Testament. Polycarp had been a disciple of John the Evangelist. Both in nature and the miracle in the persecution, this martyrdom account became immediately popular among the Christians of that age and fueled growing martyrdom cult.

During the first centuries, when it was all hidden, the cult of Martyrdom was celebrated more quietly and secretly in the graveyards and outside of the cities. When Christianity was Hellenized and spread all around the Mediterranean World, imperial support was there to praise the cult and celebrations were more openly, even with greater splendor: “The martyrs’ sanctuaries grew from modest chapels into splendidly adorned basilicas.”

Speaking of the martyrs of Early Christianity in Anatolia, we should mention the martyrdom of the Holy Forty Martyrs. Very dear to Eastern Orthodox Church, every year on 9th of March, there is a commemoration day for these forty soldiers who suffered for their faith to Christ, by freezing in a lake near Sebaste (today’s Sivas, central Anatolia, Turkey) in the former Armenia(In the early 4th century, Sebaste was the capital of the province of Armenia Minor). Even though the previous arguments say that suffering occurred at different times and many places, here the most important thing is that belief brought this story today with the venerations of the hundreds of the years.

The Fourty Martyr of Mardin (Syrian Border) is the “the only active church in a city that until a century ago was largely Christian... The Church of the 40 Martyrs holds the historic manuscript collection of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate.
The Fourty Martyr of Mardin (Syrian Border) dates back to the 4th century, was renamed in the 15th century to commemorate Cappadocian martyrs and  is the “the only active church in a city that until a century ago was largely Christian… The Church of the 40 Martyrs holds the historic manuscript collection of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate.

When Roman Emperor Licinius ruled the eastern half of the Roman Empire from 307 to 323 AD, many early Christians died as a result of his harsh politics. Soldiers known as Cappadocians’, 40 men jailed for eight days, beaten with stones just because they refused to sacrifice the pagan idols. Eventually, they were sentenced to death for disobeying the emperor and for witchcraft: “The punishment consisted of freezing them in Sebaste Lake, in a mountainous region. So martyrs were obliged to enter naked in the lake, at the time of the dusk. They were forced to undress and enter the cold waters, one of the martyrs burst out: “We don’t take off our clothes, but take off the old man. Winter is harsh, but the Paradise is sweet; the cold is strong, but the delight is pleasant. For the Paradise lost we should today no longer endure the corruptible clothes. We shall defame the ice which melts us and to hate our body”. However, that night a miracle happens and the lake’s water warms up, the ice melts and 39 of the shiny crowns come down from heaven upon the martyrs.

The depiction of the forty Martyrs gives us that entire dramatic story with one look: “A group of early Christians from Sivas who refused to give up their faith and was driven out onto a frozen lake to freeze to death. There's even an image of the one man who recanted being replaced by a local official who converted to Christianity and who is shown casting off his elaborate robe to join the men on the lake.”
The depiction of the forty Martyrs (Sahinefendi, Cappadocia) gives us that entire dramatic story with one look: “A group of early Christians from Sivas who refused to give up their faith and was driven out onto a frozen lake to freeze to death. There’s even an image of the one man who recanted being replaced by a local official who converted to Christianity and who is shown casting off his elaborate robe to join the men on the lake.”

Only one Roman soldier, Aglaius sees this miracle, wakes the others while he strips his clothes and jumps into water shouting “    I am a Christian too.” They survived in the lake; however Roman soldiers broke their legs and left them alive to die in the freezing cold. Even though their bodies were burnt and thrown in the river afterwards and Christians were not able to recover their relics, this dramatic story remained and spread all over the “Ancient Christian World” in pagan reality. It is commonly known that a martyr’s death in the early Christianity was also seen like the death of the heroes-just like the old times, even Greek Mythology and automatically ensures salvation and the likeness with the sacrifice of Christ.

This is one of the inspirational stories from the days of the Roman Empire in the transitional years as it became more Christianized. The earliest account of the martyrdom of the Cappadocian soldiers is given by Bishop Basil of Caesarea (370-379) in a homily delivered on the feast of the Forty Martyrs.

Many churches and sanctuaries erected in their honor, all around the world-One of them in Sahinefendi village, Cappadocia. Church of Forty Martyrs is one of the finest of all Cappadocia’s less-visited (off the beaten path) treasures, hidden inside of one of the rock-cut formations. Housing amazing wall-paintings back to 13th century, walls and ceilings are newly restored by an Italian team.

 

References

  • Raymond Van Dam, “Becoming Christian: The Conversion of Roman Cappadocia”
  • Gordon Robertson, “How Christianity Survived in Pagan Rome”
  • Carlos Madrigal, “Suffering, Persecuation, and Martyrdom in History and Geography”. From Asia Minor to Contemporary Turkey.
  • John Leemans, Wendy Mayer, Pauline Allen, Boudewijn Dehandschutter, “Let Us Die That We May Live”

The religious interaction between Christians and Muslims: St. Georges or Al-Khezr Cult, is this peculiar to Anatolia after all?

Hidrellez to us-Turks, a memorable childhood, family, warm-hearted grandparents, and all that joy brings early Spring, wishes and hopes along: I remember us making colorful and tiny wish packages to be buried under a rose bush, that amazing and fun jumps over the bonfire and ending up with a smell of burning in our hair…

Known as the traditional early spring festival, Hidrellez is simply celebrating the awaking of the nature every year throughout Anatolia, Asia Minor where we wait Hizir comes up to help those who need and make our wishes come true.

Eastern Orthodox depictions of St. George slaying a dragon legend was brought to Europe with the Crusaders. The earliest known depiction of the legend is from early 11th-century Cappadocia.
Eastern Orthodox depictions of St. George slaying a dragon legend was brought to Europe with the Crusaders. The earliest known depiction of the legend is from early 11th-century Cappadocia.

Beyond all that fun and joy, there is a deep rooted cultural and religious fact along with Pagan customs of the Eastern Mediterranean and many pre-Islamic traditions of Central Asia and Mesopotamia lived on in Asia Minor, Hidrellez festival is perfect sample to religious interaction between Christian and Muslim interaction in Anatolia for hundreds of years. If we go back to medieval times of Anatolia, we see two facts: Christianity was settled in Anatolia long before Turks entered the region after “their victory against Byzantine Empire”, in the 11th century. Considering Turks converted to Islam in 10th century-quite new in the  Islamic disciplines-they also brought their traditions and shamanism roots along.

Hizir (Khezr) is the Green Man,representing freshness of spirit and knowledge: “drawn out of the living sources of life”. Quite similar to early Shaman-Turk believes, one can say that interaction somehow was fast and effective in practical way: Decorative and religious arts. It is not surprising that native Christian community and Muslim Turks were in the process of getting know each other, and St. Georges cult was one of the most significant examples of mutual religious interactions between two cultures.

Bronze candlestick inlaid with silver, Anatolia, 13th century, Khezr- Nuhad Es-Said Collection of Islamic Metalwork, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington.
Bronze candlestick inlaid with silver, Anatolia, 13th century, Khezr- Nuhad Es-Said Collection of Islamic Metalwork, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington.

St. George is the figure corresponding to Hizir in Christianity. Besides being associated with St. George, Hizir is also identified with Ilyas Horasani and St. Theodore and St. Sarkis (Surp Sarkis) in Armenian Church tradition. Needless to say, St. George is important to a lot of churches, but in the Middle East, Turkey, the Balkans, he is huge!

Hidrellez, also known as St. Georges’ Day (Aya Yorgi) is such perfect sample to emphasize our point: In Anatolia (Hidir) Khezr and St. George are two personages identified with each other with respect to both their characteristic features and their functions. It is easier to understand how a local saints’ (born in either Cappadocia or Palestine) later affiliation with a Muslim holy figure: Whereas St. George was a legendary and historical figure, Hizir is more spiritual in nature-In a way, we can say that this is Anatolian combination of the years and common traditions as well as the story telling culture.

Importance of St. George can be clearly understood of the Martyrdom case during Early Christianity, times of the Roman Empire. Among the military saints, Theodore and George were most widely associated with the miracle of dragon slaying. One may say that this legend strongly related to Hizir-however, earliest surviving text connecting St. Theodore killing dragon may be dated to the 8th century, where the earliest depiction of St. George killing the dragon dates back to 11th century. History tells us Eastern Christian legends and cults brought to Europe by the Crusaders. From this stand point, it was quite expected for a European traveler /merchant would have easily recognized the earlier depictions during their visits to Asia Minor in 16th-17th centuries. Here the interesting thing is, these depictions were actually Islamic ones and can be none other than Hizir-Ilyas, a savior saint of compound identity who had special place in the popular belief systems of the Turks in Anatolia. So they actually did during their travels to Asia Minor and quite surprised upon seeing how St. George replaced with Hizir (Khezr) cult in terms of cultural and religious interaction.

On the other hand, we cannot just put things in a time order which make sense and forget the beginning: In Islamic tradition al-Khidr is widely known as the spiritual guide of Moses and Alexander the Great, a saint, a prophet and one of four immortals along with Enoch (Idris), Jesus, and Elijah. A question, is this the beginning? Same old cliché, many Anatolian cultures and civilizations melted in the same pot as nature of social Anthropology- In this case, we are discussing same “person” of the different centuries starting from early Hebrew traditions to today’s Turkey with surviving Hidrellez fest. The Judeo-Christian-Islam religions were founded in a region of the world where savior religions strongly existed for thousands of years. Today, what we have as festival and practices related to beliefs and religion can also be traced to earlier myths of the Middle East.

Footnote:

Recently,  Hidrellez has been submitted as a candidate for UNESCO “intangible cultural heritage “status, Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has announced. 

References

  • Assoc. prof. Dr Hüseyin Turk, “The religious interaction between Christians and Muslims”
  • Oya Pancaroglu, The Oriental Institute University of Oxford, “ The Itinerant Dragon-Slayer: Forging Paths of Image and Identity in Mediveal Anatolia”
  • Angeliki Laiou, “ Byzantium and the Other: Relations and Exchanges”

 

Tracing the Image of Jesus: Edessa (Urfa) the City of the Prophets

Is Edessa first ruling Christian Monarch in the World?
Long before Christ’s sent letters to King Abgar- Edessa was already placed among the sacred cities: The story of Abraham had been told…Alexander the great had proclaimed his glory in 332 BC.Moses had lived in here for seven years working as a shepherd before returning to Egypt…
Today, known as the city of “the Glorious”, Urfa is scattered countless time throughout the verses of the Old Testament. What a complexity between old and new- spiritual and mystical…City of “living faith”, Edessa still echoes the past, carrying hundreds of years questions and mysteries along.
Catholic Church says (Church History 1.12), that the Historian Eusebius –“he firmly believes”- records a tradition concerning letters that took place between Jesus and the kind Abgar of Edessa. Long before Christianity arrive Edessa, this legend had already taken its place on the shelf of mystery.
A female Christian pilgrim named Egeria also mentions the letters: She had visited biblical sites in Judea, Egypt and the Levant in the 380’s, ending up in Edessa to see the tomb of the Apostle Thomas.Guided through the area by a local bishop, Egeria was showed the preserved letters, and also the bust of Algar:
“Egeria was intrigued to find that the copy of Jesus’ letter to Abgar that she read in Edessa was longer than the copy she had at home (presumably from Eusebius’ work) An anonymously authored Syriac document from around 400 AD called the “Doctrine of Addai” contains the longer Syriac version, which adds to the end the promise that “thy city shall be blessed, and no enemy shall again become master of it forever.” Also in this revealing text, there is a mention of the “Holy image” described as a work of Hannan (Ananias) who “took and painted a portrait of Jesus in choice paints, and brought it with him to his lord King Abgar”

Icon of Abgar holding the mandylion, the image of Christ (encaustic, 10th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai).
Icon of Abgar holding the mandylion, the image of Christ (encaustic, 10th century, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai).

The legend follows these stories-three works (how correct to mention history at this stage?) of Eusebius and take us to Abgar, king of Edessa who afflicted with an incurable sickness. Having heard from travelers about this man called Jesus, he decided to write him praying him to come and heal him. Jesus promises to send a messenger, “endowed” with his power: Thaddeus, one the seventy-two disciples made his way to Edessa: “He then laid hands upon Abgar and the king was miraculously cured of his illness.”
Eusebius claims that he personally examined both Abgar’s letter and Jesus’ response which were preserved in the Record Office in Edessa and translated them from Syriac to Greek publishing both of them in full in his history.
“Abgar’s letter reads: Abgar Uchama the Toparch to Jesus, who has appeared as a gracious savior in the region of Jerusalem – greeting. I have heard about you and the cures which you perform without drugs or herbs. If report is true, you make the blind see again and the lame walk about; you cleanse lepers, expel unclean spirits and demons, cure those suffering from chronic and painful diseases, and raise the dead. When I heard all of this about you, I concluded that one of two things must be true – either you are God and came down from heaven to do these things, or you are God’s son doing them. Accordingly I am writing to you to come to me, whatever the inconvenience, and cure the disorder from which I suffer. I may add that I understand the Jews are treating you with contempt and desire to injure you; my city is very small, but highly esteemed, adequate for both of us.”
Jesus politely declines the offer but promises to send a disciple on behalf:
“Happy are you who believed me without having seen me! For it is written of me that those who have seen me will not believe in me, and that those who have not seen me will believe and live. As to your request that I should come to you, I must complete all that I was sent to do here, and on completing it must at once be taken up to the one who sent me. When I have been taken up I will send you one of my disciples to cure your disorder and bring life to you and those with you.”
True or not, or let’s call it legend, the earliest mention of the Abgar/Jesus correspondence is reported by Bishop Eusebius. However, this records lack any mention of the “holy image”. Like the letter itself, the portrait of Jesus was also part of a legendary growth: “The Holy Face of Edessa was chiefly famous in the Byzantine world. A bare indication, however, of this fact must suffice here, since the legend of the Edessa portrait forms part of the extremely difficult and obscure subject of the iconography of Christ and of the pictures of miraculous origin called acheiropoietoe (“made without hands”)
Story is interesting to a certain degree. But can we call all these third hand history information is actually true?
If there is no doubt that an image of Jesus that originated from Edessa existed, can we talk about a possibility that the image really did date from the time of Jesus and was hidden and rediscovered?
It was truly long believed to have been formed miraculously; and came to be called the Mandylion or image of Edessa: History tells us that it was brought to Constantinople in 944 and put on display there. After the sack of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade in 1204, the image was presumably brought to Western Europe and “ it is not known what happened to it since then.”

On August 15, 944, the prized relic arrived in Constantinople where it was received with great fanfare. Testimonies in that year and for many years after until the city fell to the Fourth Crusade, make it abundantly clear that it was a full length burial cloth with (at least one) full-body image of a man.
On August 15, 944, the prized relic arrived in Constantinople where it was received with great fanfare. Testimonies in that year and for many years after until the city fell to the Fourth Crusade, make it abundantly clear that it was a full length burial cloth with (at least one) full-body image of a man.

Exercising history is really challenging. But to a certain degree, the thin line between biblical sources and the fiction feeds our curiosity. Whether the letters were authentic and/or there was a miraculous image that had been turned after a relic and centered right in the growing legends, history takes us back to Edessa, where possibly Thaddeus preached Christianity to King Abgar and he possible converted to Christianity as early as 33 AD and later, he is reported to have converted to Christianity, becoming first ruling monarch in the world (!)

References
• Leclercq, H. (1907). The Legend of Abgar. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
• Tacitus, Annals, Lacus Curtius, trans. by J. Jackson. 1925-1937
• Mark Guscin, The Image of Edessa (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 185-187;
• Daniel C. Scavone, “Acheiropoietos Jesus Images in Constantinople: The Documentary Evidence,” 2006,

Where did the Apostles go after Jesus died? Vol.1: St. Andrew and the Georgian Churches of Asia Minor

According to the ancients maps of Anatolia, historical roots take us back to 4th century AD: the Kingdom of Iberia, as Georgian state. Georgian Orthodox Church Tradition claims the first preacher of the Gospel in Iberia was the Apostle Andrew, who came around here to preach in the last half of the 1st century AD. Together with Armenians, they were the first communities accepted Christianity in the Asia Minor. During his first Missionary Journey, he traveled to Constantinople, Pontus and later the Caucasus. As early as first half of the 1st century AD, Christianity was first preached here by the apostle St. Andrew. Al though Georgia and Iberia remained a largely pagan until the first half of the 4th century, St. Nino from Cappadocia arrived in the region with a mission to convert this country:

Saint Andrew the Apostle, Patron Saint of the Church of Constantinople, brings us back to the early Church, to the age of the Apostles. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew relate how Jesus called the two brothers, Simon, whom Jesus calls Cephas or Peter, and Andrew: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19, Mk 1:17)
Saint Andrew the Apostle, Patron Saint of the Church of Constantinople, brings us back to the early Church, to the age of the Apostles. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew relate how Jesus called the two brothers, Simon, whom Jesus calls Cephas or Peter, and Andrew: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19, Mk 1:17)

“According to a well-known legend, St Nino came carrying a cross of vine branches bound together with strands of her own hair. She succeeded in her mission so successfully that in 337 King Mirian declared Christianity to be the state religion. Pagan idols were systematically destroyed and Christian churches and monasteries were built in their place”
Today, Turkey’s Coruh Valley is home to valuable heritage of the Medieval Georgian Architecture. Despite of the tough climate and being remote corner of the “Anatolian World”, somehow, Georgians created amazing architecture of their own here, which was the evolution of Gothic! These churches influenced mid-Byzantine architecture and were a factor in the evaluation of the Romanesque style in Europe.
Ishan Church was built in the 9th century by the Georgian Kind David. This church was domed basilica plan type. Almost 22 different geometrical and flora motifs are used to ornament the Church and we see decorations do not follow a proper style. The pointed oval dome of this church is one of the finest samples of Georgian stone workmanship and exactly 32 meters high. The walls are limestone. Today we see the church of the Mother of Mary. In fact Isvan was part of a 10th century monastery complex. There is a Georgian inscription both in the interior and exterior recording different restoration work in the middle ages. Ishan was a cathedral until the 17th century.

Here a lion and dragon or snake fights. Some of the “iconography” shows characteristics of amazing combos of early Christian tradition together with pagan beliefs. Christ beats the beast in the hell, Archangel fights Satan, St . George beats the dragon and so on.  Both in the Old Testament and in revelation, Lion symbolizes god, strength and courage.
Here a lion and dragon or snake fights. Some of the “iconography” shows characteristics of amazing combos of early Christian tradition together with pagan beliefs. Christ beats the beast in the hell, Archangel fights Satan, St . George beats the dragon and so on. Both in the Old Testament and in revelation, Lion symbolizes god, strength and courage.

There is no doubt that Eastern Empire fatally weakened by the Crusaders sack of Constantinople in 1204. Thus also came out as missionary works increased and both in Armenia and Georgia basilica and centralized churches erected in numbers.
10th century monastery complex of Osk Vank is the most elaborate example of Georgian Gothic architecture. Same with Ishan castle, this complex was also commissioned by King David. The complex was a cultural centre until the 15th century. Here we see images of lions, eagles, and bulls. In order, lion symbolizes lion; Eagle symbolizes St. John and Ox-or bull? Symbolizes Luke. Considering this church was dedicated to St. John, we can come to point that four evengalists depicted here. This complex is the biggest cruciform shape church in the region.
Two-color stone adornments and reliefs are spectacular: St. Simeon, Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Eastern part of the wall includes five relief figures depicting Jesus, Virgin Mary, St John the baptist praying as well as king david and one of the prices on their sides. The column bases are decorated with arabesque, floral figures and pinecone motifs. Geometrical patterns and flora designs are typical to this type of architecture.The central dome of with long and narrow windows resemble the gothic style. Noone of the wall paintings survived today.

The Osvank Monastery was famous for its manuscripts and served as one of the most significant bishoprics in the region. The complex remained an important cultural and religious center until the 15th century.
The Osvank Monastery was famous for its manuscripts and served as one of the most significant bishoprics in the region. The complex remained an important cultural and religious center until the 15th century.

Where is Coruh Valley?
Coruh Valley is considered by the world Wild Fund for Nature and by Conservation International as a biodiversity hotspot along with rich cultural heritage. Coruh offers a unique landscape with its very deep and steep valley and rapid flowing water, located in the Northern Black Sea Region of Turkey. Due to low intensity human activity in the area, natural riches are well preserved. Here is very important, an important bird and a key biodiversity area and has been nominated as a high priority area for protection. This is rich in plants and contains 104 nationally threatened plant species of which 67 are endemic to Turkey.

Footnote
St. Andrews’ Re-Burial In Constantinople
“In the month of March in the year 357 the Emperor Constantine (son of Constantine The Great) ordered that the body of St. Andrew be removed from Patras and be reinterred in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. With all the magnificence and honor of the Byzantine Empire and the Great Church of Christ at Constantinople, St. Andrew was returned to the City that had first heard the message of Jesus Christ from his lips. Thus he became in death, as well as in life, the founder of the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople.”

References
• George Alexandrou,“The Astonishing Missionary Journeys of the Apostle Andrew”
• E.Gordon Whatley, Anne B. Thompson, Robert K. Upchurch, “ The Martyrdom of St. Andrew: Introduction”

A Story that demonstrates a woman in active ministry: Can an early Christian story show a woman as an apostle?

Thecla, believed to have been a disciple and colleague of the apostle Paul, became perhaps “the most celebrated female saint and ‘martyr’ among Christians in late antiquity: One of the most ancient, as she is one of the most illustrious, Saints in the calendar of the early church. Thecla used to be a Saint in the Catholic Church, and is still a Saint in the Byzantine Rite.  “It was at Iconium that St. Paul met St. Thecla, and kindled the love of virginity in her heart. She had been promised in marriage to a young man who was rich and generous. But at the Apostle’s words she died to the thought of earthly espousals; she forgot her beauty; she was deaf to her parents threats, and at the first opportunity she fled from a luxurious home and followed St. Paul.”History tells us St Paul was travelling in Iconium with his two companions, Demas and Hermogenes. They were offered hospitality at one of the houses. Paul was giving a sermon praising virginity, stating that eternal reward awaits anyone who lives a chaste life: “Thecla overheard his sermon from her window and became enamoured by his teaching to the point that she was unable to move from her window for three days and three nights.

Naturally, Paul was arrested for ‘unnatural teachings’ and remanded to prison to await trial. Same night, Thecla bribes the prison guard and visits Paul in this cell to learn more. Her family searches for her and they were enraged when they find her together with Paul. Thecla is condemned at the insistance of her mother by being burned alive in the theatre. She was taken to the theatre, stripped naked and tied to a pole. The pyre was set blazing around her. Miraculously, a hailstorm extinguished the fire and killed many of the observers. Thecla escaped to search for Paul. “Longing for Paul, Thecla dressed as a man and together with a large group of people went to the city of Merou.  Upon finding Paul, she announced that the one who commanded her to preach baptized her.  Paul acknowledged her mission and sent her home to Iconium to continue preaching.  Upon returning to Iconium, she learned that Thamyris had died.  Her mother still had hardened her heart and remained immune to her message.”

St. Thecla soon rejoins St. Paul’s group, committed to spreading the gospels. It is a saying that she left the group to dwell in a cave, living in monastic live and died peacefully at the age of 90. She is regarded by many as the first virgin martyr of the early Church despite the fact that she did not technically die a martyr’s death. Since she courageously faced certain death not once, but at least three times, she certainly shows a marytr’s heoric faith. “Thecla’s fame can be traced quite early in written records,starting at least in the second century ce with the Acts of Paul and Thecla. This work served as the basis for later biographical legends about Thecla, and for the many references to her inascetic treatises and miracle stories from late antiquity. Thecla also became a popular subject for Christian artists: her image is painted on walls, stamped on clay flasks and oil lamps, engravedon bronze crosses, wooden combs, and stone reliefs, etched onto golden glass medallions, and even woven into a textile curtain.By the 4th and 5th centuries, devotion to Saint Thecla waswidespread in the Mediterranean world; from Gaul (modern France) to Palestine, writers and artists extolled her as an exemplary virgin and martyr.”

 Index: Oxford University Press J. Davis Stephen, “The Cult of Saint Thecla”

Previously from Biblical Archaeology: St. Philip’s Tomb found in Hierapolis

In 2011, the Italian Professor Francesco D’andria had announced the apparent discovery: “Jesus’ apostle’s tomb unearthed in Turkey”.

The discovery of the grave of the biblical saint, who was killed by the Romans, 2000 years ago, will attract immense attention around, said D’Andria. St. Philip, one of the 12 apostles, came to Hierapolis, 2000 years ago to spread the Christianity before being killed by the Romans, the Professor said. D’Andria has been leading archaeological excavations at the ancient city for 32 years.

“Until recently, we thought the grave of St. Philip was on Martyrs’ Hill, but we discovered no traces of him in the geophysical research conducted in that area. A month ago, we discovered the remnants of an unknown church, 40 meters away from the St. Philip Church on Martyrs’Hill. And in that church we discovered the grave of St. Philip,” said D’Andria.

 “St. Philip is considered a martyr. In fact, the church built in his name on the Martyrs’ Hill is, for this reason, also called Martyrion, despite the fact there were no traces of the grave of St. Philip. As we were cleaning out the new church we discovered a month ago, we finally found the grave. With close examination, we determined that the grave had been moved from its previous location in the St. Philip Church to this new church in the fifth century, during the Byzantine era. We are extremely happy and proud to have discovered the grave of a saint whose name appears in the bible – this surely is an important discovery for religious tourism, archaeology and Christendom,” the professor said.

Where is Pamukkale ? (Hierapolis)

The ancient importance of the city was such that the area, which includes the famed white travertine formations and hot springs at nearby Pamukkale, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Hierapolis was founded in the 3rd century BC and by 133 BC was under the control of the Roman Empire. Its importance lay in the fact that it connected trade routes from the interior of Anatolia to the Mediterranean Sea. As such it was one of the most important Hellenistic and Roman cities in the region of Phrygia. This was the area through which Paul passed with Silas on the apostle’s second missionary journey in order to strengthen the churches he had begun with Barnabas on his first journey (Acts 14, 16). A devastating earthquake leveled the city in the 7th century AD after which it went into decline. However, the veneration of Philip continued with the building of small churches in the 9th and 10th centuries among the ruins of the martyrium. And even after the conquest of the area by the Seljuk Turks in the 12th century, western pilgrims continued to visit the site as its association with Philip remained unchanged.