Churches You Must Visit in Western Asia

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Israel, a Western Asian country is where Christianity began. So naturally, Western Asia is where Christianity first spread, long before it reached Central Asia or South Asia or Europe. The churches in Western Asian have a rich history and diversity, with various denominations and traditions, but all of them are the roots of the Christian faith throughout the world. Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome, Ephesus, Sardis, Philadelphia – these are just some of the cities mentioned in the Bible. So which churches in Western Asia do you visit when you travel to the region? Here’s a list of must-visit churches the Middle East.

1. Memorial Church of Moses church on Mount Nebo, Jordan

By Lindsay of CarpeDiemOurWay

Memorial Church of Moses church on Mount Nebo, Jordan – By Lindsay Nieminem from Carpe Diem our way
Memorial Church of Moses church Mount Nebo, Jordan

Mount Nebo is known as one of the top biblical sites in the world and is home to the Memorial  Church of Moses. This site, in the mountains of Jordan, 40 kilometres south of the capital city of Amman, contains a church, built as a memorial to Moses as it is believed that he stood on this spot with the Israelites and pointed to the promised land.

The location provides a panorama of the Holy Land and Christian tradition says that Moses was buried here although the place of his burial was never specified in the Bible.

Today you will find a serpentine cross sculpture depicting Moses’ stick, a monument of the Bible commemorating Pope John Paul II’s visit in the year 2000, and perhaps the most impressive feature of all, the brand new Memorial Church of Moses, built atop the 1500 year old church remains.

Inside the church you will find mosaics from the 5th century on the floors. This biblical site is owned by Franciscan Monks who in 1933 started excavations on the mountain. With the help of locals, they unearthed the remains of the preexisting church site and the mosaic tiles. Depicted on the tiles are images of daily life, animals and hunting, olive trees and grape leaves as well as the tree of life.

You can read this post Is Jordan Safe? if you are curious about visiting want to know about safety in Jordan.

2. Vank Cathedral, Isfahan, Iran

By Nicholas from Rambling Feet

Vank Cathedral, Iran - By Nicholas Lim from Rambling Feet
Vank Cathedral, Iran

When the Armenian community from Julfa (in present-day Azerbaijan) was displaced by Shah Abbas I in the 17th Century, the Safavid ruler established an Armenian quarter called New Julfah in Isfahan, Iran. The community settled there and the Holy Saviour Cathedral, also known as Vank Cathedral, was one of the first churches that it built.

Within the cathedral compound, there is also a small museum (included in the entrance fee) featuring religious and historical artefacts, including the first book that was printed in Iran. It also prominently documents the Armenian genocide that the Ottoman Empire (the precursor of modern-day Turkey) waged in its final years.

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As for the cathedral, its plain dome and exterior belie the richness of the art within. Gilded frescoes depicting the Old and New Testaments and saints cram the walls of this ornate cathedral. Look a little closer and you’ll find Persian floral motifs in the borders. The altar is ornamented with tiles that would not look out of place in any of Iran’s grandest mosques. The combination of Persian and Armenian Christian architecture is unique to this part of the world. If you have never been exposed to Eastern Churches, you could do worse than make Vank Cathedral a priority when you visit Iran.

3. Saint Nicholas Church – Demre, Turkey

By Pascale from Slow Travel Guide

The Saint Nicholas church in Demre may not be the most exciting building when seen from the outside, it does hide a fascinating interior and has an even more intriguing history. The Byzantine church is worth visiting, also if the story of Saint Nicholas, who later became Santa Claus or Sinterklaas, has no spiritual significance to you. Saint Nicholas from Patara was the Bishop of Myra during the 4th-century who lived and worked here. Legend has it Saint Nicholas was involved in helping young people and the poor. The original church was destroyed in an earthquake, only to be repaired and damaged by the Arab invasions.

The current church dates back to the 11th-century, with today’s ruins being the result of restorations and extensions carried out in different periods. Inside, you’ll see spectacular mosaics, domes, frescoes, and tombs. Recently, a team of specialists discovered a hidden temple underneath the church. Speculations have risen that this temple may very well contain the tomb of Saint Nicholas. Researchers at work there claim they will find Saint Nicholas undamaged in the temple. If you want to visit the church, try visiting early morning or late afternoon. In avoiding the crowds, you get a far more immersive experience.

4. Saint Nicholas chapel, Protaras, Cyprus

By Dani from A Baby Abroad

Saint Nicholas chapel, Protaras, Cyprus By Dani Kemeny from A Baby Abroad
Saint Nicholas chapel, Protaras, Cyprus

Agios Nikolaos Church, or Church of Saint Nicholas, is a small chapel in the Protaras area of Cyprus. It is located right on Kalamies Beach, next to a fishing harbor.

There is a legend that tells about Agio Nikolaos resurrecting a drowned sailor who was traveling to Jerusalem. Like this, many of his miracles are related to the sea, the reason for which he is the patron saint of sailors. This is also why his tiny church was built next to the fishing harbor in Protaras, where locals still believe he is protecting their boats and crew.

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Unlike western churches, that are designed with high spires that focus the worshippers aim towards heaven and god, this Orthodox church represents bringing god to earth. It has a blue dome and whitewashed walls, that resemble traditional greek colors.

This church is also a popular destination for weddings and christenings. It is, in fact, a very romantic place as it is located practically over the water. Sunsets and sunrises here are beautiful, although any time of day makes for a picture-perfect scenery.

If you want to see a unique church that is off the beaten path, then Agios Nikolaos is one you cannot miss.

5. Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Israel

church-of-the-holy-sepulchre-jerusalem - Chasing Lenscapes
Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Israel

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the ancient city of Jerusalem is one of the most famous sites in Jerusalem Old Town. In a city that is filled with holy places, for Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most sacred one since it is believed to be the site of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The original Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built under the instructions of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, who had converted to Christianity and decided to build a church over the temple of Venus in Jerusalem. During the demolition process, a tomb was found, and it was believed this was the tomb of Jesus.

According to the legend, a few years later, Constantine’s mother discovered the relic of the True Cross. Throughout the years, the True Cross was stolen and then returned, the church was converted into a mosque and then damaged by a fire, and in 1009 it was destroyed under the orders of Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. A new church was completed in 1048. Ever since then, the church has been a significant pilgrimage site for Christians.

The church is located in a small compound in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, and it is shared by several Christian communities: Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox and Armenian.

Looking at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from outside, it seems very modest in size and appearance. However, once you step inside, you can immediately sense the holiness of the place and its deep religious significance. Inside the church, the first thing you will see in front of you is the Stone of Anointing, where Christ’s body was prepared for burial. You will probably see believers rubbing something against the stone to absorb its sacredness. The steps to the right will lead you to the richly decorated Calvary, where Jesus was crucified. But the most sacred part where the Holy Sepulchre (Christ’s tomb) can be found is located under the massive dome. The church is always filled with tourists and believers alike, so if you want to avoid the crowd, try getting there early in the morning or in late the afternoon.

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We’ve been to many churches during our travels, but we’ve found the atmosphere inside this church to be extremely special. Watching the faces of the visitors, you can tell this is a life-changing experience for some of them, and that’s what makes it a must-see attraction for any tourist visiting Israel, regardless of his religion.

6. Gergeti Trinity Church, Georgia

By Emily from Wander-Lush

Gergeti Trinity or Holy Trinity  Church in Gergeti, Georgia - Pic by Emily Lush
Gergeti Trinity or Holy Trinity Church in Gergeti, Georgia

Gergeti Trinity Church, officially Holy Trinity Church, has become the poster child for tourism in Georgia and a symbol for the entire Caucasus region. It’s not hard to see why – the church’s setting amidst the imposing Greater Caucasus mountains is nothing short of breathtaking.

Gergeti sits at an elevation of 2,170 metres and can be reached by car or an easy three-hour-return hike from the nearby town of Kazbegi. Built in the 14th century, the complex consists of a stone Orthodox church and a bell tower enclosed by a wall. So secluded is the location, when Georgia’s old capital, Mtskheta, was being raided, precious relics were transferred to Gergeti Trinity for safekeeping (including Saint Nino’s Cross, which belonged to the woman responsible for brining Christianity to Georgia in the year 319). After a period of dormancy when Georgia fell under Soviet rule, the church is one again active, hosting regular mass.

In contrast to the dramatic location, the church itself is quite humble when viewed up close. Inside, it’s small and dimly lit as Orthodox churches often are. Clusters of votive candles illuminate ornate icons hung from the rough walls. From the church yard outside, you get incredible views of the mountains and valley below.

This is a work in progress list of the must-visit cathedrals and churches in Western Asia. There are many that still need to be added. If you would like to contribute, ping

Other Posts to Read

Churches  to visit in Western Asia.
Pinterest images of Vank Cathedral, Saint Nicholas chapel and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Israel.

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