06/11/2008, 00.00
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World's oldest church discovered in Jordan

The news comes from a team of archaeologists, according to whom the church found beneath that of Saint George in Rihab is the first in all of the Christian world. Its construction can be dated to between 33 and 70 A.D.

Amman (AsiaNews) - The oldest church in the world is in Jordan.  The discovery was made by a group of archaeologists, and has been published by the Jordan Times.  According to researchers, the church dates back to between 33 and 70 A.D. "We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world", says Abdul Qader al-Husan, head of Jordan's Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies.  The church is located beneath the Church of St. George (230 A.D.) in Rihab, in the northern part of the country near the Syrian border.

According to Husan, "we have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians - the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ".  These, the archaeologist adds, fled from persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan.  Citing historical sources, he suggests that the group lived and practiced the faith in the underground church, leaving it only after the Roman Empire embraced Christianity (313 A.D.).

Inside the cave are several stone seats, probably reserved for the clergy, and a circular area reminiscent of an apse.  A deep tunnel led to a source of water.

The auxiliary bishop of the Greek-Melkite archdiocese, Nektarious, calls the discovery "an important milestone for Christians all around the world". Rihab has a total of 30 churches.  According to Husan, both Jesus and Mary passed through the area.

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