Turkey has many luring aspects of which some are the Mediterranean sun and gorgeous beaches. However, thanks to its colourful history, religious tourism in Turkey is increasing. In specific, the western world is keen to complete Christian pilgrimages to former biblical sites, scattered in abundance over the country.
The history of Christianity in this region is certainly bountiful. Many prominent figures of the religion were born in the boundaries of these lands and also suffered persecution before Christianity was widely accepted under the reign of Constantine, who had also converted.
Christian Tours In Turkey
Christianity has a long history in Turkey which is the birth place of numerous Christian Apostles and Saints, such as Apostle Paul of Tarsus, St. Nicholas of Myra, St. Polycarp of Smyrna and many others. Turkey is also home to the Seven Churches of Asia, where the Revelations to John were sent. All of the first seven Ecumenical Councils which are recognized by both the Western and Eastern churches were also held in present-day Turkey.
Christian-interest Tours in Turkey
Christianity was born in the Holy Land, but it became a world religion in that other Holy Land, Roman Asia Minor.
St Paul—Paul of Tarsus—took the message of Christianity to his homeland, making four significant journeys to the churches of Asia Minor.
Today you can visit his home city of Tarsus, the Seven Churches of Revelation at Ephesus (Efes), Smyrna(İzmir), Pergamum (Bergama), Sardis (Sart, east of İzmir), Philadelphia (Alaşehir), Laodicea (Goncalı, between Denizli and Pamukkale) and Thyatira (Akhisar).
The story doesn’t end with Paul. Christianity throve in Asia Minor for well over a millennium.
The first Christian church, where Saint Peter preached in a cave in Antioch (Antakya), at the eastern end of Turkey’s Mediterraean coast, is now preserved as a museum welcoming visitors.
Saint Nicholas, whose story later to give birth to the legend of Santa Claus, was born in Patara on the Mediterranean coast, and preached and served as a bishop in nearby Demre. You can visit the church in Demre where he was buried.
There’s plenty more to see in this Other Holy Land of Asia Minor. The easiest way is on a good Christian-interest tour. Orion Tour of Istanbul has long experience of guiding Christians through their heritage in Asia Minor.
Prominent Figures of Christian History in Turkey
It is widely accepted that Saint John wrote his Gospel while living in the city of Ephesus, on the Aegean coast.
Paul the Apostle was born in the historic city of Tarsus in southern Turkey. Likewise, he also lived in Ephesus and started one of the strongest churches of that time.
Although never confirmed, many religious experts have suspected the Virgin Mary, lived in Ephesus, at the same time as Saint John.
The Cappadocian fathers were Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, who all are credited with spreading Christianity within the Anatolian region of Turkey.
Hagia Sophia Church, Istanbul
Located in Istanbul, it is a legacy made for both Christian and Muslim culture. It was originally a church converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. Here, you will see one of the most beautiful architectural designs. The magnificent dome will take your breath away as it is almost 56 meters high and 31 meters in diameter. It was included in UNESCO's List of World Heritage.
St. Nicholas Church
The Church of St. Nicholas, also known as the St. Nicholas Monumental Museum, is a Byzantine church devoted to St. Nicholas. With the bestowal of the emperor Justinian I, the church was built in A.D. 520 on the base of the religious complex where St. Nicholas served as the archbishop.
The restoration of the church was carried out in 1892 by Russian Emperor Nicholas I. The church was used well into 1923 by the Ottoman Greeks in Demre until they were obligated to leave for Greece following the Population Exchange Agreement, signed by the Greek and Turkish states. The Church of St. Nicholas was world-renowned in previous centuries, with its stunningly artistic frescoes and unique architectural features.
The sarcophagus inside the church is presumed to have belonged to St. Nicholas. It is believed that the bones of St. Nicholas were in this sarcophagus before they were seized and taken to Italy by a group of Italian sailors in the 11th century. Today the remains of St. Nicholas (apart from the few bones displayed in Antalya Museum) are buried in Basilica di San Nicola in the Italian city of Bari.
Ephesus was the second most important city of the Roman Empire. At one stage, persecution of Christians took place en masse and they had to hold secret prayer services. Still existing in certain places, within the ruins are the Ichthies signs that combined the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ. Their purpose was to let Christians know about safe places of worship.
House of Virgin Mary
The House of the Virgin Mary, which now serves as a Catholic shrine, is located on Bülbül Mountain, on the foothill of which Ephesus was founded. It is assumed that St. John the Evangelist brought the Virgin Mary to Ephesus after the death of Jesus, based on St. Johns’ writings in the Gospel. From the entrance of Ephesus, the House of the Virgin Mary is located at a 10-minute up-hill drive.
The story of how this house was discovered up in the tree-covered mountain is interesting. It is claimed that before Ephesus was fully discovered and excavated, a bedridden German nun named Anne Catherine Emmerich had visions about the whereabouts of the House of the Virgin Mary. A French priest, who recorded the account of Emmerich’s visions, visited Ephesus in 1881 and supposedly found the House of the Virgin Mary standing at the precise location Emmerich had described.
Chora Church, Kariye Müzesi
Just like Hagia Sophia, Chora Church was also a church that was converted into a mosque. It is one of the most beautiful examples of a Byzantine church. Inside the building is a beautiful interior covered with fine mosaics and frescoes. These paintings are of religious figures such as Mary, Joseph and Moses.