History tells us that religious and cultural diversity is evident in Turkey. Anatolia is a place where people of diverse culture. And where ethnicity have coexisted for centuries. The Hatay Province hosts one of the major cities reflecting that feature of Anatolia. And this is a symbol of harmony and peace. You will find an abundance of Muslim, Christian and Jewish shrines here especially in Antakya, Turkey. A large number of pilgrims all over the world visit the city. One of most sacred Christian shrine is cave church of Saint Peters. People call it “first church of the world”.
It is a 7 meters high, 13 meters wide church in a natural cave. Some say that Apostle Peters himself dug the cave to preach Christianity in 40 AD. That is when they started using the word “Christian” for the believers of Jesus Christ.
The oldest part of the building is from the 4th and 5th century at least. It mostly includes floor mosaics. There are traces of frescoes on the wall adjoining the altar representing its majesty. Unfortunately, the majority of its mosaics and frescoes are affected adversely by natural disasters like earthquakes, etc. the church was built in the era when sudden raids and attacks were very common. In addition to this, they build a tunnel inside opening towards mountainside for immediate evacuation. The government included the church in Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage in 2011.
While Crusaders dominated the Antioch region. They built the façade of the Church, at the end of the 11th century. During the construction, they enlarged and connected to the façade of the church with two arches. Capuchin Friars rebuilt the present-day façade in 1863 on the order of Pope Pius IX. The French Emperor Napoleon III also contributed to it. Also Atop the stone altar in the middle of the church is a stonework platform placed in the memory of Saint Peter’s Platform Holiday. It was celebrated every 21 February in Antakya. In 1932 they decided to place a marble statue of Saint Peter in 1932 above the altar.
During the 7th century, alongside Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Constantinople (present-day İstanbul), the Ancient City of Antioch were one of the five episcopal seats of Christianity. Moreover, it is one of the three final resting places of the remains of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. who died in the Third Crusade. In 1963 Pope Paul VI declared it a site of pilgrimage. The community used the garden of the church as a cemetery for centuries. Whereas, graves and burials have also been located inside the church, especially around the altar. Religious services conducted by priests coming from different regions mainly on Christmas and June 29th every year.