Seven Churches of Asia

All of the Seven Churches of Revelations are to be found in what is today the modern country of Turkey. These Biblical churches in Turkey are mentioned in the opening chapters in the Book of Revelation, which is the final book in the New Testament. Unlike the other books in the New Testaments, which are narrative and instructional, Revelations is prophetic, or apocalyptic. It was written by John of Patmos—many believe by St. John the Apostle while he was exiled to Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

In the Book of Revelations, John relates prophetic visions that began with a voice commanding him to write the visions down and to send the writings to the Seven Churches of Asia—Ephesus, Smyrna (today’s Izmir), Pergamum (today’s Bergana), Thyatira, Sardis, Philadephia, and Laodicea. Many companies that specialize in travel to sacred places offer seven churches tours that usually begin in Istanbul with some sightseeing in that great city and often will include some other sites of interest, such as Cappadocia or the Temple of Apollo at Didyma.

When you take seven churches tours you will often find yourself visiting ruins, not intact and functioning churches. This is the case with the Basilica of St. John in Ephesus, which boasts some of the finest and most extensive ancient ruins in the world. The ancient city was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey. It is where St. John, author of the book of visions sent to the Seven Churches of Asia, died and was reputedly buried. The Basilica of St. John was built in the sixth century by the Emperor Justinian, and it is said to be built over the tomb of the saint. The great church variously fell into ruins, was restored and altered to be a mosque, and then was nearly completely destroyed by Tamerlane in 1402. Finally, its stone and blocks were plundered as building material. Some restoration has occurred, and today’s ruins are quite impressive.

Another of the Seven Churches of Asia that lies in ruins is the massive Red Basilica located in Bergama (once called Pergamum). Originally dedicated by Hadrian to Serapis, one of the gods of ancient Egypt, it was converted into a Christian church in fourth century. One of the Biblical churches in Turkey that is today actually a functioning and beautiful house of worship is located in Izmir (formerly Smyrna). It is also the oldest church in the country. This is the St. Polycarp Church, dedicated to the bishop who was converted to Christianity by St. John and was martyred by the Romans in 89 AD.

All the other sites that are part of seven churches tours are ruins. They still are worthwhile stops on an itinerary because of significant other ruins and sites located nearby. Sardis, in addition to the ruins of its Byzantine Church, boasts an ancient synagogue and Greek temple. Thyatira (today’s Akhisar) has numerous ancient ruins. Modern Alasehir was originally named Philadephia, which actually means “city of brotherly love” in Greek. This, of course, means something to the citizens of that city in Pennsylvania in the United States. While it is a lovely city with beautiful parks, all that remains of the Byzantine church are some columns and frescoes. Only those with deep religious or archeological interests in the Biblical churches in Turkey will visit this site, as there are only ruins here and little tourism infrastructure to speak of

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