List of oldest church buildings

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This article lists some but by no means all of the oldest known church buildings in the world. In most instances, buildings listed here were reconstructed numerous times and only fragments of the original buildings have survived.

"Church" may also be used in the sense of "Christian denomination", or in the singular as the Christian Church as a whole. The "church" (ecclesia) is traced to Pentecost and the beginning of the Christian mission in the 1st century.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia the Cenacle (the site of the Last Supper) in Jerusalem is the "first Christian church."[1] The Archaeology magazine suggests that the Dura-Europos church in Syria is the oldest in the world.[2] Several authors have cited the Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Armenia's mother church) as the oldest cathedral.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

Early Christianity[edit]

Church buildings of the 2nd to 4th centuries, either excavated archaeologically, or substantially preserved.

Building Image Location Date constructed Denomination Notes
Dura-Europos house church DuraEuropos-Church.jpg Dura-Europos, Syria c. 241[2] Several walls still standing, oldest images of Jesus discovered within the surviving frescoes of the large baptistry room.
Megiddo church Megiddo05.JPG Tel Megiddo, Israel late 3rd century[9] Ruins discovered on prison grounds in 2005, possibly oldest building constructed as a church ever discovered.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral Էջմիածնի Մայր Տաճար.jpg Vagharshapat, Armenia 301-303 (traditional date) Armenian Apostolic The current building was founded in 483 and heavily rebuilt in the following centuries. It still functions as a church and is the main cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Etchmiadzin Cathedral is listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Church of St Peter Antioch Saint Pierre Church Front.JPG Antioch (Antakya), Turkey 4th or 5th century (later additions, possibly earlier usage) Syriac Orthodox Cave-church used by very first Christians of Antioch, where St. Peter presided as bishop. Known by its original Aramaic name of Knisset Mar Semaan Kefa. Extensively reconstructed, with oldest surviving elements from 4th or 5th century.[10]
Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio Milano Sant Ambrogio 1.jpg Milan, Italy 379-386 Catholic built by St. Ambrose in 379-386.
Panagia Ekatontapiliani EKPYL 2881.jpg Parikia, Greece The church dates to 326 AD. Its oldest features likely predate the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire in 391 AD. Orthodox e Panagia Ekatontapyliani (also known as the Church of 100 Doors) is a historic Byzantine church complex
St. Peter's Basilica Vatican City at Large.jpg Vatican City 333. (Old St. Peter's, some elements remain) new St. Peter's Basilica 1635 Roman Catholic Largest church in the world
Santa Maria in Trastevere Santa Maria in Trastevere front.jpg Rome, Italy Current wall structure and floors date to 340 AD Roman Catholic The first sanctuary was built in 221 and 227 by Pope Callixtus I and later completed by Julius I, but the oldest parts of the present church, the wall structure and floors, date to 340 AD [11][12]
Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul (Novi Pazar) PetrovaCrkva2008.jpg Stari Ras, Novi Pazar, Serbia 4th century, with additions in the 7th and 9th centuries Eastern Orthodox Also known as Peter's Church (Serbian: Петрова црква / Petrova crkva), it is a Serbian Orthodox church, the oldest intact church in Serbia, situated on a hill of Ras, the medieval capital of the Serbian Grand Principality (Rascia), near Novi Pazar, Serbia. It is part of the Stari Ras complex, listed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in Serbia.
Cathedral of Trier Trier Dom BW 1.JPG Trier, Germany 340 AD overseen by Bishop Maximin of Trier, the construction of the grandest ensemble of ecclesiastical structures in the West outside Rome. Some 4th-century elements remain in a mainly Romanesque building Roman Catholic Oldest cathedral in Germany, still in use today.
Monastery of Saint Anthony St. Anthony's Monastery 2006.jpg Eastern Desert, Egypt 356 c. (later additions) Oriental Orthodox Partially destroyed in the 11th century and rebuilt.
Basilica of San Lorenzo, Milan Fale - Milano - 85 retouched.jpg Milan, Italy 364 c. Catholic When built, it was biggest rotunda church building. the four round apsis forming a cross appears here for the first time. It was an inspiration for the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople.
Basilica of San Simpliciano Lombardia Milano9 tango7174.jpg (Milan), Italy c. 374 Catholic Exterior walls are still the original from the late 4th century, Roman basilical windows like the one in Trier are still visible on the flank of the basilica.
Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains basilica Metz st pierre nonnains.jpg Metz, France 380 Roman Catholic Originally built to be part of a Roman spa complex, but the structure was converted into use as a church in the 7th century becoming the chapel of Benedictine monastery. Oldest church building in France.
San Nazaro in Brolo IMG 5599 - Milano - S. Nazaro Maggiore - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto - 21-2-2007.jpg (Milan), Italy c. 382 Catholic Most ancient Latin cross building in western Europe. Just basilical or rotunda church building were built before San Nazaro in Europe.
Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio ruins Side view of Saint Eustorgius Church in Milan.jpg Milan, Italy c. 4th century Catholic Some ruins remains of the apsis of the ancient basilica.
Church of St. George, Sofia StGeorgeRotundaSofia.JPG Sofia, Bulgaria 4th century Eastern Orthodox Built by the Romans with many later additions
Jubail Church Jubail Church.jpg Al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia 4th century Nestorian The government hides it from locals and bans foreigners from openly visiting it, even archaeologists.
Aqaba Church ruins Early church of Aqaba01.jpg Aqaba, Jordan 4th century[13] Ruins uncovered in 1988.
Aparan Basilica Basilica of the Holy Cross (Aparan, Armenia).jpg Aparan, Armenia c. 390s

Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages[edit]

Further information: Romanesque architecture

Church buildings dating to between the 5th and 10th centuries that have not been substantially altered in later periods.

Building Image Location Country Oldest Part Denomination Notes
San Giovanni Evangelista, Ravenna (Ravenna) Ravenna 1978 037.jpg Ravenna Italy 424 Roman Catholic Partially original walls - original floors and columns under layers of new floors.
Church of Saint Simeon Stylites (Deir Semaan) ChurchofAleppo.jpg Aleppo Syria 475 Eastern Orthodox No longer a functioning church, but walls still standing.
Bolnisi Sioni Болнисский сион.jpg Bolnisi Georgia 479-493 Eastern Orthodox The oldest extant church building in Georgia
Hagia Sophia Hagia Sophia exterior 2007 002.jpg Istanbul Turkey 532-537 Eastern Orthodox In 1453, it was captured and converted into Muslim mosque, becoming a museum in 1932.
Basilica of Saint Servatius St Servaas Maastricht.jpg Maastricht Netherlands c. 550. There were a small memorial chapel on the site of the saint's Saint Servatius (310-384), who became the first bishop of Maastricht, this was later replaced by a larger stone church Roman Catholic The oldest church in the Netherlands
Saint Catherine's Monastery Katharinenkloster Sinai BW 2.jpg Saint Catherine Egypt c. 550 Eastern Orthodox Oldest functioning monastery in the world, received the Patent of Mohammed.
Church of the Nativity Bethlehem BW 1.JPG Bethlehem West Bank c. 565 Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic One of the oldest church buildings in the world, still functioning as a church.
Dranda Cathedral Dranda cathedral.jpg Dranda Abkhazia, Georgia 550-600 ca Eastern Orthodox The oldest church building in Abkhazia, still functioning as a church.
Jvari (monastery) Jvari monastery, outside Mtsketa.jpg Mtskheta Georgia 590-604 Eastern Orthodox A World Heritage Site
St Martin's Church, Canterbury Canterbury St Martin close.jpg Canterbury United Kingdom 597 Anglican The oldest church building in England, still functioning as a church.
Debre Damo Debre Damo Church.jpg Tigray Region Ethiopia 6th century Oriental Orthodox The best preserved example of Aksumite Architecture.
Cathedral of Saint Domnius Cathedral of Split1.jpg Split Croatia Consecrated in the 7th century, structure built in 305 AD. Roman Catholic Built in AD 305 as the Mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the cathedral was consecrated in the early 7th century following the Sack of Salona. Claimed to be the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world still in use, in its original structure. The structure of the cathedral itself is second only to the Etchmiadzin Cathedral in age.
Church of St. John the Baptist (Kerch) Kerch ChurchOfStJohn.jpg Kerch Ukraine 717 Eastern Orthodox Founded in 717, later rebuilt on several occasions.
Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, Kopčany Kopčany kostol - sever.JPG Kopčany Slovakia 9th or 10th century Roman Catholic The only remaining Great Moravian building. The oldest church in Slovakia. Well-preserved and openly accessible to the public.
San Pietro in Trento, Ravenna (Ravenna) Pieve San Pietro in Trento 1.JPG Ravenna Italy Before 977 Roman Catholic Facade restored, the interior shows for the first time in Art History romanesque style architectural features.

High to Late Middle Ages[edit]

Further information: Gothic architecture

A selection of notable, extant 11th- to 14th-century churches.

Building Image Location Country Oldest Part Denomination Notes
Church of Our Lady (Aarhus) Vor Frue Kirke Århus.jpg Aarhus Denmark 1060, an older wooden church was on the site in the 10th century Lutheran The crypt church is the oldest extant stone church in Scandinavia. still functioning as a church.
St. Michael's Church, Vienna St. Michael's Church Vienna 1.jpg Vienna Austria 1220–1240 Roman Catholic

Oldest wooden Church at Czech Republic city Broumov. Was build at year 1177

Early Modern[edit]

Further information: Baroque architecture

Notable early churches built in the New World between the 15th and 19th centuries. Listed are especially the oldest extant church buildings by country.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "To the time of Constantine (71-312)". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15 November 2013. "Certainly no spot in Christendom can be more venerable than the place of the Last Supper, which became the first Christian church." 
  2. ^ a b Silver, Carly (11 August 2010). "Dura-Europos: Crossroad of Cultures". Archaeology. Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Stokes, Jamie, ed. (2008). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 65. ISBN 9781438126760. "Etchmiatzin is located in the west of modern Armenia, close to the border with Turkey, and its fourth-century cathedral is generally regarded as the oldest in the world." 
  4. ^ Dhilawala, Sakina (1997). Armenia. New York: Marshall Cavendish. p. 72. ISBN 9780761406839. "Echmiadzin Cathedral is the spiritual center of the Armenian Church and the seat of the Catholicos of all Armenians. It is also the oldest cathedral and Christian monastery in the world." 
  5. ^ Bauer-Manndorff, Elisabeth (1981). Armenia: Past and Present. Lucerne: Reich Verlag. "Etchmiadzin, with the world's oldest cathedral and the seat of the Catholicos, draws tourists from all over the world." 
  6. ^ Utudjian, Édouard (1968). Armenian Architecture: 4th to 17th Century. Editions A. Morancé. p. 7. "...he also wanted to contribute to the restoration of the oldest cathedral in Christendom, that of Etchmiadzin, founded in the 4th century." 
  7. ^ Horne, Charles Francis (1925). The World and Its People: Or, A Comprehensive Tour of All Lands. New York: I.R. Hiller. p. 1312. "A far more interesting relic in this Russian section of Armenia is the old monastery of Etchmiadzin. It has been in constant use since the founding of Christianity in Armenia in the third century of our era, and is thus the oldest Christian monastery in the world today." 
  8. ^ Bryce, James, Viscount (1896). Transcaucasia and Ararat, being notes of a vacation tour in the autumn of 1876, by James Bryce. London: Macmillan and Co. LTD. p. 311. "...the famous monastery of Etchmiadzin, which claims to be the oldest monastic foundation in the world..." 
  9. ^ The Ancient Church at Megiddo: The Discovery and an Assessment of its Significance E Adams - The Expository Times, 2008 "... chronologically distinct. The structure at Megiddo is obviously not a basilica. According to Tepper, the Megiddo church is a unique ecclesiastical form. It could not have resembled the church buildings of the late third century."
  10. ^ Clyde E. Fant, Mitchell Glenn Reddish, A guide to biblical sites in Greece and Turkey (Oxford University Press US, 2003), pg. 149
  11. ^ "Rome attractions : Rome Churches and Basilicas Guide". Hoteldesartistes.com. Retrieved 2012-06-13. 
  12. ^ "Santa Maria in Trastevere". Rome-explorer.com. Retrieved 2012-06-13. 
  13. ^ Rose, Mark. "Early Church at Aqaba". Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "Worth Church"

External links[edit]