The oldest church in the world

Lent is a good time for contemporary Christians to contemplate their solidarity with the Church as the Body of Christ, which extends around the world and back through time.

Here are the remains of the oldest church building that has been found.  It’s called the  Dura-Europas, from a town by that name, in Syria.  It has been dated from 235 A.D.

It’s a house church,in that it’s an ordinary house to which was attached a separate long hall that was used for worship.  Remains of a baptistry were found, as well as fragments of parchment that have been identified as scraps of a Communion liturgy.  Also, around the baptistry are frescoes of scenes from the Bible.  Here is Christ healing the paralytic:

Christ healing the paralytic, from Dura-Europas Church, 235 A.D.

For more of these paintings, which must be some of the very earliest examples of Christian art, go to the Wikipedia article linked below.  I love their extreme simplicity, but also the intense piety that they express.

Think of the people who made these and who worshiped here.  In 235 A.D., the books of the Bible would have been available for about a century.  Christians were being killed for their faith and would be for another hundred years.  Based on mentions of the pre-Easter fasts in texts that date even earlier, these folks probably observed Lent.

The 10 Oldest Churches in the World | Weird Pictures, Wonderful Things.

Dura-Europas church

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Joe

    This is really neat. Thanks for posting.

  • Joe

    This is really neat. Thanks for posting.

  • Dan Kempin

    “Based on mentions of the pre-Easter fasts in texts that date even earlier, these folks probably observed Lent.”

    Just curious why you threw that in.

  • Dan Kempin

    “Based on mentions of the pre-Easter fasts in texts that date even earlier, these folks probably observed Lent.”

    Just curious why you threw that in.

  • jim_claybourn

    “Based on mentions of the pre-Easter fasts in texts that date even earlier, these folks probably observed Lent.”

    Just curious why you threw that in.

    Uhhhh

    Maybe because today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent?

  • jim_claybourn

    “Based on mentions of the pre-Easter fasts in texts that date even earlier, these folks probably observed Lent.”

    Just curious why you threw that in.

    Uhhhh

    Maybe because today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent?

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Shhhh…don’t show the überCalvinists these pictures. Images!!!

    : )

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Shhhh…don’t show the überCalvinists these pictures. Images!!!

    : )

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, so … what are we seeing in that image. Is that Jesus at the top? And then there’s one guy laying on a cot, who I’ll presume is the paralytic, but then there’s another guy standing up, holding a cot. Is that the paralytic after he’s been healed?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, so … what are we seeing in that image. Is that Jesus at the top? And then there’s one guy laying on a cot, who I’ll presume is the paralytic, but then there’s another guy standing up, holding a cot. Is that the paralytic after he’s been healed?

  • Joe

    tODD – That is how I “read” it.

  • Joe

    tODD – That is how I “read” it.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, tODD, this would be a good example of “narrative painting,” which culminated in the Middle Ages, but was also practiced quite interestingly by the patron of this blog, Lucas Cranach. It was an attempt to depict unfolding time by means of a single visual image. It showed the same character several times in different parts of the story. It’s fascinating that the technique appears this early.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, tODD, this would be a good example of “narrative painting,” which culminated in the Middle Ages, but was also practiced quite interestingly by the patron of this blog, Lucas Cranach. It was an attempt to depict unfolding time by means of a single visual image. It showed the same character several times in different parts of the story. It’s fascinating that the technique appears this early.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Well, it’s also weird (at least to this left-to-right reader) that the chronology runs from right to left. I have to assume that this is due to the writing system in use at the time, which I assume was Syriac.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Well, it’s also weird (at least to this left-to-right reader) that the chronology runs from right to left. I have to assume that this is due to the writing system in use at the time, which I assume was Syriac.

  • SKPeterson

    @Todd – the wiki article says it follows the Hellenistic Jewish tradition (source of the Septuagint) so it might follow from the right-to-left of Hebrew. Here’s a couple sites that give some more info on the actual layout, in situ placement of the frescoes, etc.

    http://www.deeperstudy.com/link/dura_baptistery.html

    http://www.homsonline.com/EN/Citeis/slides/DuraEuropos_Baptistery.htm

  • SKPeterson

    @Todd – the wiki article says it follows the Hellenistic Jewish tradition (source of the Septuagint) so it might follow from the right-to-left of Hebrew. Here’s a couple sites that give some more info on the actual layout, in situ placement of the frescoes, etc.

    http://www.deeperstudy.com/link/dura_baptistery.html

    http://www.homsonline.com/EN/Citeis/slides/DuraEuropos_Baptistery.htm

  • SKPeterson

    There is also this interesting site, which mayn ahve been the house of St. Peter: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2000/3/Capernaum-%20The%20Church%20of%20the%20House%20of%20Peter

    It looks like it may have been used as a house church since the 1st century, but later enclosed and supplanted in the 500′s with a new structure.

  • SKPeterson

    There is also this interesting site, which mayn ahve been the house of St. Peter: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2000/3/Capernaum-%20The%20Church%20of%20the%20House%20of%20Peter

    It looks like it may have been used as a house church since the 1st century, but later enclosed and supplanted in the 500′s with a new structure.

  • http://journeytoluther.blogspot.com/ moallen

    I find these kinds of discoveries fascinating. It reinforces that as Christians we are part of something larger that didn’t begin with the Great Awakening – but is historic and real. This is the same reason I enjoyed the book Heaven on Earth by Arthur A. Just – he had photos of ancient Churches and placed worship in a historic context.

  • http://journeytoluther.blogspot.com/ moallen

    I find these kinds of discoveries fascinating. It reinforces that as Christians we are part of something larger that didn’t begin with the Great Awakening – but is historic and real. This is the same reason I enjoyed the book Heaven on Earth by Arthur A. Just – he had photos of ancient Churches and placed worship in a historic context.

  • http://www.calvarycork.org Mike Neglia

    Cool post, I used the picture (and linked it back to this article) on my own blog here http://goo.gl/Sl3iy .

  • http://www.calvarycork.org Mike Neglia

    Cool post, I used the picture (and linked it back to this article) on my own blog here http://goo.gl/Sl3iy .

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  • http://www.thereformedmind.wordpress.com Troy Gibson

    Thanks Dr. Veith for this reminder. I linked it with credit to you over at my own blog (www.thereformedmind.wordpress.com). We have many shared interests (particularly Christianity and politics/society). I’m a political science professor at a public university, so these issues are important to me and you have been a help over the years. By the way, I’ve enjoyed teaching a former undergraduate student from Patrick Henry College (his name is Peter Rogers). He has nothing but great things to say about the institution and your leadership there.

  • http://www.thereformedmind.wordpress.com Troy Gibson

    Thanks Dr. Veith for this reminder. I linked it with credit to you over at my own blog (www.thereformedmind.wordpress.com). We have many shared interests (particularly Christianity and politics/society). I’m a political science professor at a public university, so these issues are important to me and you have been a help over the years. By the way, I’ve enjoyed teaching a former undergraduate student from Patrick Henry College (his name is Peter Rogers). He has nothing but great things to say about the institution and your leadership there.

  • Ivan Voser

    I am writing an article on worship in the early church in German for a small church magazine called “Das Feste Fundament.”
    For this purpose I would like to ask you for permission to use the picture on the earliest church building in the ancient ciy of Dura Europas. The highest resolution picture that you have available, would serve this purpose best. I would be glad if you responded to this mail within a few days.

    Best wishes,

    Ivan Voser

  • Ivan Voser

    I am writing an article on worship in the early church in German for a small church magazine called “Das Feste Fundament.”
    For this purpose I would like to ask you for permission to use the picture on the earliest church building in the ancient ciy of Dura Europas. The highest resolution picture that you have available, would serve this purpose best. I would be glad if you responded to this mail within a few days.

    Best wishes,

    Ivan Voser


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