Dura Europos: The Oldest Church in the World

Dura Europos was a Hellenistic, Parthian, and Roman city built in the northern part of present-day Syria around 300 BC. It came under under Parthian rule in 113 BC and became an important administrative centre. Later, the Romans conquered the city in 165 AD, and then the Sasanian Empire captured it after a siege in 256–57 AD. After this conquest, the city’s population was displaced, and the abandoned city was eventually covered with sand and disappeared. Following the abandonment of the ancient city, nothing was built over it. Moreover, It was looted and largely destroyed between 2011 and 2014 during the Syrian Civil War.

Dura Europos

Dura Europos was called the “Pompeii of the Syrian Desert.”

Dura Europos

The Dura Europos Church House is the oldest known church dating back to 235 AD.

During the period when Christianity was not welcomed, the first Christians got together and worshipped in private houses, mostly of wealthier members. Those houses were decorated and later turned into churches. The one in Dura Europos is the oldest known example of church houses. 

Dura Europos plan
History of Architecture, CCA

The building consists of a house connected to a meeting room. A staircase leads to a baptistry room whose surviving frescoes are probably the most ancient Christian paintings ever. The “Good Shepherd,” “Adam and Eve,” “David and Goliath,” and the “Healing of the paralytic” are among the surviving paintings as well as the earliest depictions of Jesus Christ to have ever been discovered. Judging by the technique and some of the subjects taken from the Old Testament, it is obvious that the frescoes followed the Hellenistic Jewish iconographic tradition.

Baptistery of Dura Europos
The Baptistery from en.wikipedia.org
the good shepherd frescoe
“The Good Shepherd” from en.wikipedia.org
Christ and Peter walking on water
“Healing of the Paralytic” from en.wikipedia.org
“Christ and Peter walking on water” from en.wikipedia.org