Ancient Antioch is a privileged religious pilgrimage destination. One of the earliest cradles of Christianity, and a prominent capital of the Roman Empire, modern-day Antakya is “one of the cities left most devastated by the recent earthquakes that killed tens of thousands in Turkey and Syria,” according to NPR.
Built around 300 BC in southern Turkey, the city was once called the Rome of the East. In fact, tradition holds that Peter himself was bishop of Antioch years before becoming the first bishop of Rome – he would’ve stayed there for seven years.
Chapter 11 of the Acts of the Apostles says that Antioch was the city in which, for the first time, the disciples of Jesus were called “Christians.” Tradition has enthroned Peter as the founder of the Church of Antioch, following the narration of the Book of Acts, which tells not only of the arrival of Peter and Barnabas to the Turkish city, but also of their preaching.
This time was different
Although the city has survived several earthquakes in the past, the latest were different. According to Gamze Yilmazel’s article for NPR, “Turkish military vehicles, on patrol to keep the peace, roll past entire streets reduced to rubble. Bodies are still believed to be rotting under the debris.”
The earthquake that hit the country on February 6 and its aftershocks “wiped out monuments of world heritage and religion in the city […] Historical sites throughout the region suffered,” Yilmazel affirms.
The president and CEO of the World Monuments Fund, Bénédicte de Montlaur, told NPR that “the earthquakes damaged structures spanning centuries and cultures, from Roman forts to historic mosques to churches holy to a number of Christian denominations […] we have no doubt that the heritage lost in these tragic events will take years to repair and that we will need a large international mobilization to support the local efforts.”