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. These surviving, freestanding buildings were purpose constructed for use by congregations (or used at an early date) and the dates are the approximate dates when they were first used by congregations for worship.

"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 and was not used in reference to a building.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia the Cenacle (the site of the Last Supper) in Jerusalem was the "first Christian church."[1] The Archaeology magazine suggests that the Dura-Europos church in Syria is the oldest surviving church building 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. 229[2] Several walls still standing, oldest images of Jesus discovered within the surviving frescoes of the large baptistry room. Fragments of parchment scrolls with Hebrew texts unearthed containing Christian Eucharistic prayers closely connected with the prayers in the Didache.[9]
Megiddo church (Israel) Megiddo05.JPG Tel Megiddo, Israel late 3rd century[10] Ruins discovered on prison grounds in 2005, possibly oldest building constructed as a church ever discovered. It retains mosaic floor decoration with Christian motifs- possibly the oldest building with this feature.[11]
Rotunda of St. George Rotunda of Galerius (February 2009).jpg Thessaloniki, Greece 306 Eastern Orthodox Currently serves as a museum, although the Greek Orthodox Church has access to the church for various festivities. Structure built in 305 and consecrated later in the century.
Santi Cosma e Damiano Palatine view of temple of romulus.jpg Rome, Italy c. 309 Roman Catholic Occupies the former space of the Temple of Romulus in the Roman Forum.
Panagia Ekatontapiliani EKPYL 2881.jpg Parikia, Greece 326 Greek Orthodox Panagia Ekatontapyliani (also known as the Church of 100 Doors) is a historic Byzantine church complex.
Stavrovouni Monastery Stravrovoini monastry.jpg Larnaca, Cyprus 327-329[12] Orthodox It was founded by Saint Helena the mother of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Great at the place where after a miracle she found the lost Holy Cross on her way back from her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Saint Helena went on the pilgrimage after the First Ecumenical Synod in Nicaea (325). The monastery has a piece of the Holy Cross left there by Saint Helena.
St. Peter's Basilica Vatican City at Large.jpg Vatican City 333 Roman Catholic Largest church in the world and the seat of Roman Catholicism, the current church (1635) is built on the site of the original basilica and the grave of St. Peter (who was martyred in Rome).[13] The actual grave is visible in excavations under the church. The original floor and columns are visible in a space under the 17th century floor.
Santa Maria in Trastevere Santa Maria in Trastevere front.jpg Rome, Italy 340 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 from 340 AD [14][15]
Cathedral of Trier Trier Dom BW 1.JPG Trier, Germany 340 Roman Catholic Oldest cathedral in Germany, and still in use today. Its construction was overseen by Bishop Maximin of Trier, the construction of the grandest ensemble of ecclesiastical structures in the West outside Rome. A few 4th century elements remain in a mainly Romanesque building.
Monastery of Saint Anthony
Antonius Kloster BW 7.jpg
Eastern Desert, Egypt 356 Coptic Orthodox Partially destroyed in the 11th century and rebuilt; very little of the original structure remains.
Basilica di San Lorenzo Fale - Milano - 85 retouched.jpg Milan, Italy 364 Roman Catholic When built, it was the biggest circular church building standing. It was an inspiration for the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople. Some ancient features remain.
Basilica di San Simpliciano Lombardia Milano9 tango7174.jpg Milan, Italy c. 374 Roman Catholic Exterior walls are original from the late 4th century. Roman basilica windows as in Cathedral of Trier are still visible on the flanks of the basilica.
Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains Metz st pierre nonnains.jpg Metz, France 380 Roman Catholic Originally built to be part of a Roman spa complex, the structure was converted into use as a church in the 7th century when it became the chapel of a Benedictine monastery. It is the 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 Roman Catholic One of the earliest Latin cross buildings in western Europe; retains few ancient features.[16]
San Paolo fuori le mura Roma San Paolo fuori le mura BW 1.JPG Rome, Italy 386 Roman Catholic One of the four major Constantinian basilicas in Rome, and the only one to retain its antique character, the basilica was heavily damaged by an 1823 fire. It was rebuilt true to form, however, so it remains one of the best "preserved" Constantinian basilicas in the Roman world. All that remain of the ancient basilica are the interior portions of the apse and the triumphal arch.[17]
Aparan Basilica Basilica of the Holy Cross (Aparan, Armenia).jpg Aparan, Armenia c. 390s Armenian Apostolic Church Original building retains many ancient features.
Santi Giovanni e Paolo Basilique Santi Giovanni e Paolo de Rome.JPG Rome, Italy 398 Roman Catholic 4th century basilica was erected on the site of one of the most well-preserved "house churches" of early Christianity (dating from the 1st-3rd centuries), with intact fresco decoration.[18] The houses are part of a museum currently, but the basilica still functions as a church.
Basilica di Sant'Eustorgio ruins Side view of Saint Eustorgius Church in Milan.jpg Milan, Italy c. 4th century Roman Catholic Some ruins remain of the apse of the ancient basilica.
Church of St. George StGeorgeRotundaSofia.JPG Sofia, Bulgaria 4th century Eastern Orthodox Built by the Romans with many later additions, St. George is the oldest building in Sofia and the only one dating from the Roman era. Still a functioning church.[19]
Naos Sotiros en ti Chora Chora Church Constantinople 2007 panorama 002.jpg Istanbul, Turkey 4th century Eastern Orthodox Very little remains of the 4th century structure, but it contains impressive 13th century mosaic decoration. It was converted to a mosque in 1501 and has been a museum since the time of Ataturk.[20]
Hagia Irene Hagia Eirene Constantinople July 2007 002.jpg Istanbul, Turkey 4th century Eastern Orthodox Now a museum and concert hall (due to its excellent acoustics). Its excellent state of preservation is due to the fact that it lies inside the Ottoman palace complex (Topkapı Palace).[21]
Aula Palatina (Konstantinbasilika) Trier - Aula Palatina.JPG Trier, Germany 4th century Evangelical Church in the Rhineland; originally Roman Catholic A Roman palace basilica that was built by the Emperor Constantine at the beginning of the 4th century. The basilica contains the largest extant hall from antiquity.[22]
Jubail Church Jubail Church.jpg Al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia 4th century Assyrian The government hides it from locals and bans foreigners from openly visiting it- even archaeologists.[23]
Santi Nereo e Achilleo 21 caracalla ss nereo 3 000213.jpg Rome, Italy 4th century Roman Catholic Adjoins the Baths of Caracalla at the site where St. Peter is said to have dropped the cloth covering his wounds upon his removal from the Mamertine Prison. First referenced in 336, a 15th-century basilica sits on its original site; only the columns are original.[24]
Santa Pudenziana Apsis mosaic, Santa Pudenziana, Rome photo Sixtus enhanced TTaylor.jpg Rome, Italy 4th century Roman Catholic Retains original and unique late Roman mosaic decoration.[25]
San Clemente al Laterano Alexius of Rome saint clemente.jpg Rome, Italy 4th century Roman Catholic The present basilica was built just before the year 1100, but beneath it is an intact 4th century basilica that had been converted out of the home of a Roman nobleman, part of which had in the 1st century briefly served as an early church. This ancient basilica retains fresco decoration (see image). The basement the house had in the 2nd century briefly served as a mithraeum. The home of the Roman nobleman had been built on the foundations of a republican era building that had been destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.
Santa Costanza Santa Costanza - vista dalla basilica costantiniana.jpg Rome, Italy 4th century Roman Catholic Built under Constantine as a mausoleum for his daughter, Costanza. Retains many original mosaic decorations, and her porphyry sarcophagus is a gem of the Vatican Museum.
Santi Quattro Coronati Santi Quattro 0511-13 cortile interno.JPG Rome, Italy 4th century Roman Catholic Sanctuary is located in an isolated green area of Rome, so it retains the ambience of the area in antiquity.
Aqaba Church Early church of Aqaba01.jpg Aqaba, Jordan 4th century[26] Ruins uncovered in 1988; Remains of an early basilica.[27]
Church of St Peter Antioch Saint Pierre Church Front.JPG Antioch (Antakya), Turkey 4th or 5th century 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.[28]
  • Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, Originally built in the 4th century, rebuilt several times, most recently in the 17th century, Possibly oldest church building in Sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopian Orthodox Church)[citation needed]
  • Mor Gabriel Monastery, founded in 397 by Saints Samuel and Simon belonging of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
  • Valkum (Fenekpuszta) Built before 433 AD remains of a Bazilika in Hungary near lake Balaton

Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages[edit]

Church buildings dating to between the 5th and 10th centuries.

Building Image Location Country Oldest Part Denomination Notes
San Vitale San Vitale 051112-20.JPG Rome Italy 400 Roman Catholic Although it was restored several times, the church retains its original structure and walls; it actually sits below street level due to its age and relative lack of major structural renovations. The portico is one of the most ancient parts of the church.
Santa Sabina Rom, Basilika Santa Sabina, Außenansicht.jpg Rome Italy 422 Roman Catholic Mostly unaltered, with some original mosaic decoration and agate window treatments. Notably, wooden doors date from around the same era and contain an early depiction of the crucifixion.
San Giovanni Evangelista Ravenna 1978 037.jpg Ravenna Italy 424 Roman Catholic Partially original walls, with original floors and columns under layers of new floors.
Santa Maria Maggiore SantaMariaMaggiore front.jpg Rome Italy 432 Roman Catholic Features intact original mosaic decoration, including some of the oldest depictions of the Virgin Mary. 18th century façade covers 12th century façade which replaced the original.
Church of the Acheiropoietos Church of the Acheiropoietos.JPG Thessaloniki Greece 450-470 Eastern Orthodox The Acheiropoietos has been dated from its bricks and mosaics to ca. 450–470, making it perhaps the earliest of the city's surviving churches. It was modified in the 7th and again in the 14th–15th centuries, but retains much of its original character. Known as the Panagia Theotokos in Byzantine times, it is dedicated to Mary.
Santo Stefano Rotondo Celio - s Stefano Rotondo 1040178-80.JPG Rome Italy 455 Roman Catholic Believed to be the first church in Rome with a circular plan, inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Sant'Agata dei Goti Agata dei Goti intern.jpg Rome Italy 460 Roman Catholic Built for the Arian Goths by Ricimer, this ancient church retains its original site plan and columns, despite many restorations.
Stenče Stenče Polog Valley Macedonia 420-465 Macedonian Apostolic Until today in Polog Valley there are the remains of 16 Early Christian basilicas that have been revealed, of which 12 in Tetovo area and 4 in Gostivar area, and best has been investigated the one in Stenče dating from the 5th century AD, which is unique in Macedonia with 3 baptisteries.
Monastery of Stoudios One of the exterior facades of the St. John Stoudios (Imrahor) Monastery.jpg Istanbul Turkey 462 Eastern Orthodox No longer a functioning church, and was a mosque until it fell into ruin. As with many other archaeological sites in Turkey, plans to revert the ruins back into a mosque are underway.[29]
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.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral Էջմիածնի Մայր Տաճար.jpg Vagharshapat Armenia 483 Armenian Apostolic The current building was erected 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.
Qalb Loze QalbLoze,W.jpg Qalb Loze Syria 5th century Assyrian The church at Qalb Lozeh dates back to the 460s AD and is one of the best-preserved churches of this period in the region. The church is the first known in Syria with the wide basilica, where the columns that in traditional Byzantine church architecture separate the aisles from the nave have been replaced with low piers and soaring arches that create the feeling of expanded space.
Santa Prisca Santa Prisca-facciata-antmoose.jpg Rome Italy 4th-5th century Roman Catholic In the interior, the columns are the only visible remains of the ancient church after a 17th-century restoration, but the floor plan remains. A baptismal font allegedly used by Saint Peter is also conserved.
Little Hagia Sophia Sergius and Bacchus Church February 2011.JPG Istanbul Turkey 527 Eastern Orthodox, now a mosque A former Eastern Orthodox church dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople, converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. This Byzantine building with a central dome plan was erected in the sixth century by Justinian, likely was a model for Hagia Sophia, and is one of the most important early Byzantine buildings in Istanbul. Poorly executed restorations leave the church with a modern character.[30]
Hagia Sophia Hagia Sophia exterior 2007 002.jpg Istanbul Turkey 532-537 Eastern Orthodox For almost 1,000 years it was the main center of worship for the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the jewel of Constantinople. In 1453, it was captured and converted into a mosque, becoming a museum in 1932 under Atatürk.
Basilica di San Vitale Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.jpg Ravenna Italy 547 Roman Catholic The best-preserved basilica from the time of Justinian I, filled with outstanding Byzantine mosaics in an excellent state of preservation.
Basilica of Saint Servatius Maastricht BW 4.JPG Maastricht Netherlands c. 550 Roman Catholic The oldest church in the Netherlands. There was a small memorial chapel on the site dedicated to the Saint Servatius (310-384), who became the first bishop of Maastricht, and this was later replaced by a larger stone church, incorporating the ancient stone.
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 to continue operation.
Church of the Nativity Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem, 2008).jpg Bethlehem West Bank c. 565 Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic One of the oldest church buildings in the world which has continuously functioned as a church.
Dranda Cathedral Dranda cathedral.jpg Dranda Abkhazia/Georgia c. 550-600 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 St Martin close.jpg Canterbury United Kingdom 597 Anglican. The oldest church building in England, still functioning as a church.
Paromeos Monastery Paromeos Monastery.jpg Wadi El Natrun Egypt Sixth Century Coptic Orthodox Founded in 335, but oldest remaining part dates from the 6th century.
Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul PetrovaCrkva2008.jpg Stari Ras, Novi Pazar Serbia 6th century 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. It is 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. The foundations of the structure date from the 6th, with the rest from the 7th, 9th, and 12th centuries.[31]
Debre Damo Debre Damo Church.jpg Tigray Region Ethiopia 6th century Eastern Orthodox The best preserved example of Aksumite Architecture.
Church of St. John the Baptist Kerch ChurchOfStJohn.jpg Kerch Ukraine 717 Eastern Orthodox Founded in 717, later rebuilt on several occasions.
Church of St. Margaret of Antioch 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 Pieve San Pietro in Trento 1.JPG Ravenna Italy c. 977 Roman Catholic Facade restored, but very much intact. Constructed by Galla Placidia.

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 Vor Frue Kirke Århus.jpg Aarhus Denmark 1060 Lutheran An older wooden church was on the site in the 10th century. The crypt of the church is the oldest extant stone church in Scandinavia. It is still functioning as a church.
St. Michael's Church St. Michael's Church Vienna 1.jpg Vienna Austria 1220–1240 Roman Catholic One of the oldest churches in Vienna, Austria, and also one of its few remaining Romanesque buildings. Dedicated to the Archangel Michael, St. Michael's Church is located at Michaelerplatz across from St. Michael's Gate at the Hofburg Palace.

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]


  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. ^ J.L. Teicher, "Ancient Eucharistic Prayers in Hebrew (Dura-Europos Parchment D. Pg. 25)", The Jewish Quarterly Review New Series 54.2 (October 1963), pp. 99-109
  10. ^ 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."
  11. ^
  12. ^ Ιερά Μονή Σταυροβουνίου, Έκδοση Ιεράς Μονής Σταυροβουνίου, 1998, Λευκωσία, Κύπρος. ISBN 9963-615-02-3 (In Greek).
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Rome attractions : Rome Churches and Basilicas Guide". Retrieved 2012-06-13. 
  15. ^ "Santa Maria in Trastevere". Retrieved 2012-06-13. 
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  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Rose, Mark. "Early Church at Aqaba". Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ Clyde E. Fant, Mitchell Glenn Reddish, A guide to biblical sites in Greece and Turkey (Oxford University Press US, 2003), pg. 149
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  34. ^
  35. ^ Monuments of Syria: A Guide, Ross Burns (
  36. ^
  37. ^ <
  38. ^
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  42. ^
  43. ^ "Worth Church"

External links[edit]