If you have an inclination to history, architecture, and aesthetics, visiting different churches is a great way for you to dig in and find out more about the world’s past. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, whether your visiting a church as part of a pilgrimage or just touring around. Seeing one will be worthwhile.
Church buildings are best appreciated when you know their history—the era when they were built, who built them, the original structures, and the renovations made. No reading of your history books will beat a first-hand experience of stepping onto the grounds of the church to get the facts for yourself.
Every church has a story to tell that is worth-knowing.
Here are some of the oldest churches in the world that still stand today.
1. Monastery of Saint Anthony (Circa 356 AD)
Monastery of Saint Anthony is a Coptic Orthodox monastery found in the eastern desert of Egypt, deep within the Red Sea mountains. It was built to honor St. Anthony, a Christian saint from the lower regions of Egypt. This remote monastery had been an eyewitness to countless persecution from the Bedouins and Berbers who plundered the monastery many times. Today, the Church of St. Anthony stands in the medieval style after it underwent renovation.
2. Cathedral of Trier (Circa 340 AD)
This church built in 340 AD is situated in Trier, Germany. The High Cathedral of Saint Peter in Trier is the oldest in the country. It stood through many periods, with each period contributing to what it looks like today. It used to house the relic of St. Helena during its construction.
3. Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains (Circa 380 AD)
France had once been the home of the popes who ruled over the Catholic Church, so it’s not a wonder the country is dotted with many churches worth-visiting. The oldest one is still standing in Metz, a premedieval basilica called Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains. It was initially built as a Roman gymnasium, but the building was converted into a church and convent during the seventh century. It is no longer used as a church today, but it advocates arts and culture and is often used as venue for concerts and plays.
4. Santa Maria in Trastevere (Circa 340 AD)
Built around the same time the Cathedral of Trier was, the Basilica of our Lady of Santa Maria in Trastevere takes a spot in the list. This basilica located in Rome, Italy, is one of the oldest in the city and is the first one to hold a mass openly celebrated by the Christians. It bears the Romanesque-style architecture and is built in honor of Mary, mother of Jesus.
5. Basilica of San Nazaro in Brolo (Circa 382 AD)
A visit to Italy will never be complete without visiting at least one church in every city. Churches in this country are popular tourist destinations and one of the oldest is found in Milan. San Nazaro in Brolo or San Nazaro Maggiore was built by St. Ambrose in 382 AD along the road that led to Rome, giving travelers a chance to say a prayer before embarking on a journey to the powerful city.
6. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (Circa 319 AD)
The St. Peter’s Basilica at the heart of Vatican City is the fulfillment of Jesus’s words to Peter in the Bible, “And on this rock, I will build my church.” In 319 AD, Emperor Constantine the Great commissioned the construction of the basilica, shaped in the form of a tau cross. It was remodeled during the Renaissance period and now houses some of the greatest works of art in the world, including Michelangelo’s Pieta, Maderno’s nave, and Bernini’s furnishings. It is also where the Pope currently resides.
7. Dura-Europos House Church (Circa 241 AD)
Dura-Europos House Church in Syria is the oldest church structure in the world. It is small, simple, and lacks the grandeur other well-known churches boast, but this church speaks well of its history. It contains frescoes and other paintings that depict the miracles Jesus performed. It is also noted that Hebrew scrolls in parchment paper were discovered within the church grounds. The writings in the scroll were reported to be Christian prayers.
8. Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Circa 301 AD)
Members of the Armenian Apostolic Church consider Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia as their founding church. Also referred to as the Armenian Vatican, it is considered the oldest cathedral in the world, built in 301 AD by Saint Gregory the Illuminator. Though the cathedral has undergone several renovations, it still bears parts of its original design. Its northern wall still contains several ancient Greek inscriptions.
9. Church of the Nativity (Circa 327 AD)
Because the little town of Bethlehem is known of being the birthplace of Jesus Christ, it’s only but natural to build a church in the town that commemorates his birth. The Church of the Nativity was commissioned by Constantine and his mother Helena right on the cave where Jesus was believed to be born. Every year, thousands of pilgrims make their way to the church and stand in line for hours just to be able to touch the spot where Jesus’s manger lay.
10. Basilica of San Simpliciano (Circa 374 AD)
The Basilica of San Simpliciano, a church in the northern part of the city, was built with a shape of the Latin cross by Saint Ambrose. It was named after Saint Simplician, a bishop of Milan. It used to be a site of pagan cemetery, but as the church underwent several renovations from the Renaissance to Baroque to Rococo and Neoclassical, it has tried many architectural styles as well. At present, it has a Romanesque appearance.
11. Megiddo Church (Circa 290 AD)
Israel is known as the Holy Land for it has witnessed the birth of many religions. As a testimony, one of the oldest churches in the world, the ancient Megiddo church, is found in this country. Its original structure still stands within the walls of the Megiddo Prison in Tel Megiddo. Within the structure’s walls are mosaics with Greek inscriptions referring to Jesus Christ.