Amman, June 9 (DPA) Archaeologists in Jordan have discovered what they claimed to be the ‘oldest Catholic church in world’ at Rihab, 40 km north-east of Amman, the Jordan Times reported Monday.
‘We have uncovered what we believe to be the oldest Catholic church in the world, dating from 33AD to 70AD,’ Abdul Qader Hassan, head of the Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies told the paper.
The discovery lying underneath Saint Georgeous Church in Rihab is ‘amazing, because we have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians, the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ’, he said.
The early Christians, described in the mosaic inscription on the floor of St Georgeous as ‘the 70 beloved by God and Divine,’ are said to have fled from Jerusalem during the persecution of Christians to the northern part of Jordan, particularly to Rihab, he added.
Citing historical sources, Hassan said the 70 lived and practised their rituals in secrecy in this underground church.
‘We believe that they did not leave the cave and lived until the Christian religion was embraced by Roman rulers,’ he added. ‘It was then St Georgeous Church was built,’ he said.
The findings in the graveyard near the cave offer valuable clues, according to the Jordanian archaeological expert.
‘We found pottery items that date back from the 3rd to 7th century. The findings show that the first Christians and their offspring continued living in the area until the late Roman rule,’ he said.
‘Going down a few steps into the cave, one would see a circle shape area, believed to be the apse, and several stone seats for the ecclesiastics,’ he added.
Archimandrite Nektarious, Bishop Deputy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, described the discovery of the cave as an ‘important milestone for Christians all around the world’.
‘The only other cave in the world similar in shape and purpose is in Thessalonica, Greece,’ Jordan Times quoted the bishop as saying.
Officials at the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism said they planned to capitalise on the discovery to further promote the area to become a major tourist attraction in the near future.
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