Turkey: St. Peter Church major draw for faith tourism

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Historic cave church, also known as world’s first cathedral, attracts thousands of local, foreign tourists every year
By Salim Tas /HATAY, Turkey
The historic cave church of St. Peter in southern Turkey — one of the oldest churches in the world — has become a major destination for faith-based tourism.

In the province of Hatay, the cave church was carved out of the mountainside of Mt. Staurin (Mt. Starius), in the Antioch region (modern-day Antakya) of the Apostle Peter’s early ministry.

The church — also known as the St. Pierre Church — spans some 9.5 meters wide, 13 meters long, and seven meters high, and in 2011 was added to UNESCO’s Tentative World Heritage List.

According to UNESCO’s website, the church, the world’s very first cathedral, dates to the years A.D. 38-39 and was dedicated to the first pope, St. Peter (Pierre).

“The church was announced as a place of pilgrimage by the pope in 1963” since it “witnessed the first Christians and their meetings,” said the website.

“Every year, thousands of local and foreign tourists visit the church. It is an important place for religious tourism,” Husnu Isikgor, the provincial culture and tourism director, told Anadolu Agency.

“Also, every year religious ceremonies are carried out here. Our aim is to add the church to UNESCO’s permanent list,” he said.

Hatay, one of Turkey’s cosmopolitan provinces, is home to various minority groups such as Syriac Orthodox Christians, Syriac Catholics, and Armenians.