Restoration starts on world’s first cave church

The Turkish Islamic government of Premier Recel Tayyp Erdogan will kick start the restoration of the St. Peter's Cave in Antakya, the world's oldest church carved into a mountainside. According to Christian tradition, the first of the apostles celebrated the first mass here 2,000 years ago and about a millennium ago the Crusaders turned it into a chapel.

Restoration starts on world’s first cave church
The restoration process has started at the church since the rocks on the church have become
a danger both for the church and visitors [Credit: AA]
The renovation has started, according to Turkish press reports, under the direction of the Museum of Antakya which has jurisdiction over the cave church of St. Peter, who was the first bishop of Antioch after leaving Jerusalem and before travelling to Rome.

The church is carved into Mount Silpius which dominates ancient Antioch on the Orontes, once the 'queen of the East' and one of the three capitals of the Mediterranean with Rome and Constantinople. Today it lies on the outskirts of the Turkish town of Antakya, close to the border with Syria and its bloody civil war. According to the Turkish opposition, Jihadist militia transit through this area to cross the border into Syria. The cave is 13-metres deep and seven-meters high and was at risk of collapse. The mountain around it is crumbling in a number of areas.

Renovation work will first focus on the structure to stabilize the area. The cave will be supported with steel beams, then cleaned to safeguard the mosaics inside and fish designed on the walls by Christian pilgrims 2,000 years ago. The Turkish tourism and culture ministry hopes the renovated venue will attract once again tourists and pilgrims who are currently steering clear due to the war in Syria.

A parking lot, souvenir shop, bar and restaurant will be built under the cave, which has not been a place of worship for a long time and is part of the museum. Visitors enter through the museum and have to pay a ticket.

The church is however given to Catholic authorities for a few masses and ecumenical celebrations every year though Turkey does not recognize judicial status to the Catholic Church.

Christians in Antakya are just a few dozen although there are still three patriarchs- the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Bechara Rai, the Syrian Catholic Ignace Yoseph III Youan and the Melkite Greek Gregory III Laham. Today they are based in Lebanon and Syria. However Antioch remains a site of great historic importance as Jesus' followers were called for the first time 'Christians' here.

Source: ANSA [April 05, 2013]

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