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The Bible comes alive in Turkey

The Library of Celsus in Ephesus was commissioned by Celsus, the governor of Roman Asia in the early 2nd century, and is his final resting place. The library was completed in 125 AD and held more than 12,000 scrolls. Photo provided by Allison Block

Many readers don’t know that Turkey is ever-present reality in the Bible. For instance, did you know …

* many of the books of the New Testament were written either to or from churches in Turkey?

* apostles Paul, Peter, and John all lived and/or preached in Turkey?

* the eighth oldest church in the world, Hagia Sophia, still stands in Istanbul, serving as a cathedral from 360-1453, and is now a museum?

* the Council of Nicea, which realized the first part of the Nicene Creed, happened in Iznik, Turkey?

* the Seven Churches of Revelation were all in Turkey?

* the final resting place of the Virgin Mary, where she was taken by St. John, can be visited by pilgrims today?

* early Christians fled Roman persecution to Cappadocia, and their underground cities and churches are well preserved today?

* Antakya (Antioch), Turkey is the place where Christians were first called “Christians”?

Turkey as the Holy Land

As the sixth most popular tourism destination in the world with more than 30 million visitors each year, Turkey is rapidly cultivating its reputation from a haven for not only sun, sand and sea, but also for historic faith destinations.

Not only is Turkey home to the aforementioned sites, but many of these locations have artifacts, relics, monuments, and buildings that can still be seen and touched today. For example, Nicaea (modern day Iznik) was the site of the First and Second Councils of Nicaea (the first and seventh Ecumenical councils in the early history of the church), and where the Nicene Creed was written. The church of the First Council of Nicaea, which was later converted to a mosque and is now a museum, is an awe-inspiring part of history for visitors to see.

On the western coast of Turkey, tourists walk through the ruins of the city of Ephesus, a major city of Christianity from 50 AD. This is evidenced by its plethora of Christian sites. The Apostle Paul lived and worked there, as well as writing 1 and 2 Corinthians here. He also authored the namesake book of this city, Ephesians, while imprisoned in Rome. The Gospel of John was also written in Ephesus, and one can visit the author’s gravesite within the ruins of the Basilica of St. John. It is believed that St. John was charged with bringing the Virgin Mary here to live out her final days, and the site of her home and a church named for her is accessible today.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

The eighth oldest church in the world, Hagia Sophia, still stands in Istanbul, serving as a cathedral from 360-1453, and is now a museum.

Furthermore, few people know about the entire section of Topkapi Palace, the magnificent campus that served as the residence of Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years, that is dedicated solely to holy relics from the Christian and Muslim world, including the staff of Moses, the turban of Joseph, and the cloak and beard of the Prophet Mohammed.

Turkey’s population is 98 percent Muslim, which also provides opportunities for tourists to see how people of other faiths worship and live. The most majestic of these houses of worship is in Istanbul — the Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque. So called for the more than 20,000 handmade blue tiles that adorn the inner walls of the mosque, it sits on the site of the former Byzantine palace. It is only one of two mosques in Turkey that have six minarets.

It is also possible to observe a performance of the Whirling Dervishes, a seven-century-old ritual that is practiced by followers of Sufism. You will be mesmerized by the rhythmic music and dizzying “dance” of the Sema, as they turn toward the truth, leaving behind ego and discovering divine perfection and love.

Turkey’s history is bountiful, complex, and foremost, fascinating. To learn more about what this impressive country has to offer, visit the official website of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism at www.goturkey.com, or to arrange a tour, visit www.turkuaztours.com.

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