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The Christians of Cappadocia (with video)

The trials and tribulations of the first Christians are, of course, well documented both historically and Biblically. The spreading of ‘the word’ throughout the Roman Empire–the Near East, Asia, Mediterranean, and Rome itself--is chronicled by several renowned historians of the time as well as the authors of the New Testament. But no account is more inspiring or essential to the story of Christianity that of the Apostle Paul and his missionary work in Capadocia.

The New Testament tells us that in the aftermath of the crucifixion of Jesus, it soon became apparent to Rome’s reining ruler, Claudius Drusus Nero, that his followers were not losing faith as expected.  Resenting their tenacity, Claudius decreed that the followers of Jesus must all be eradicated for the good of the Empire, by any means necessary.  Thus, converting to this new religion meant conscious resignation to Rome’s persecution--a perilous path nonetheless chosen by many.  And no one was more instrumental in convincing them to do so than Paul, a former Jew born "Saul," who’d once dedicated his life to wiping the followers of Jesus off the face of the earth.

Tradition holds that on a journey to Damascus where Saul intended to mount a violent offensive against the subversive followers of Jesus, he experienced an epiphany; a spiritual awakening that ultimately changed not only his worldview, but would change the face and future of the movement that would become “Christianity.”  

As a fervent convert to the Jesus movement, the newly-baptized "Paul" launched a zealous walking ministry believed to have covered 20,000 miles–from Damascus to Tarsus, Ephesus to Rome.  But what is most significant is the place he ended his journey, a desolate and forbidding place called Cappadocia, in central Turkey.

Paul's Ministry in Cappadocia

A visibly indescribable, seemingly man-made terrain of towering spires, cones, obelisks, and countless caves cut deep into solidified volcanic ash, geologists today believe this area was wholly created by massive volcanic eruptions that spewed a thick layer of ash 300 feet deep, covering 15,000 square miles. 

Historically, Cappadocia was known as home to a small society of people whose chief economy was based on raising horses for the Roman army.  But once visited by Paul, these people came to be recognized as one of the most pious religious groups in all the Roman Empire, ultimately playing an extraordinary role in perpetuating the teachings of Jesus.

Soon after the population converted to followers of Jesus, the breathtaking landscape of this unlikely crossroads of Asia and Europe became the mere facade of a unique fortress that developed in a most unique and phenomenal way over the next three centuries.  Although the sheer height of the terrain presented considerable protection from the Roman army (with whom they immediately fell at odds for their religious and trade betrayal), the Cappadocians further utilized their cavernous environment by burrowing deeper and deeper into the mountain of limestone, eventually carving out hundreds of miles of maze-like tunnels that are believed to have ultimately housed tens of thousands of Jesus followers, in numerous self-contained underground settlements. Tens of thousands of individuals who would constitute the largest population of "new religion" adherents for over a century.

To sustain their cave-dwelling existence, the Cappadocians not only had to be most clever artisans, they had to be extraordinary city planners and logisticians.  Found hidden behind huge rolling doors in the back recesses of their terrestrial churches were multiple secret passages leading to the city proper (suburban passageways leading to urban centers where huge marketplaces and trade centers are thought to have existed). 

As this city was constructed to be totally self-sustaining and isolated, every conceivable need had to be considered in this world that would not enjoy daylight for indefinite periods of time. With some forty separate communities as deep as eight stories underground, archaeological evidence shows that these people lacked for nothing and did indeed thrive for centuries. Perhaps most significantly, they survived and miraculously thrived, and came to represent the core group of the newly forming “Christians.”

 

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For Related Topics See:

I Romana (the Story of a Slave in the Time of Christ)

Native American Religion

Religion and Cannibalism

Japanese Religion

Tibetan Buddhism

Primary sources:

Historychannel.com

Natgeo.com

Visitturkey.org

images via wikipedia.org

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Comments (2)

St. Paul, one of the greatest missionaries...and Capadocia is such a wonderful place

A really interesting article.

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