Cave church draws visitors for faith tourism
St. Pierre Church, considered a pilgrimage place for Christians and believed to be the world’s first cave church by some sources, hosted over 62,000 visitors so far in 2021.
While nearly 42,000 people visited the church, which was partially closed as part of the COVID-19 measures last year, the site hosted 62,000 local and foreign visitors in the first 10 months of 2021.
Ayşe Ersoy, director of Hatay Archeology Museum, noted that St. Pierre Church was a significant point in terms of faith tourism.
“This church is a spot where St. Pierre, one of the 12 apostles who believed in Jesus, gathered his followers in a cave and preached, and is considered the first cave church in the world,” Ersoy said, stressing that there has been a huge influx of visitors after pandemic restrictions were lifted.
She recalled that a scientific excavation was started around the church this year by the Hatay Archeology Museum Directorate.
Stating that an open-air museum will be built in the section between the church and the Museum Hotel with the completion of the excavations, Ersoy noted that they aim to attract more visitors.
Ersoy also added that this year many tourists visited the church from all parts of Turkey, mostly from Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Russia.
Ersin Turgut, a tourist who came from Istanbul to visit the region with his family, said they had been planning a trip to Hatay for a long time.
“This is a city that fascinates us with its atmosphere and stories. We decided to come and see this place without further delay. Glad we came,” Turgut noted.
Ebru Öztürk, a visitor, explained that she came from Ankara and that the place where she was most impressed in Hatay was the St. Pierre Church.
Expressing that the church is very interesting with its atmosphere and history, Öztürk invited everyone to see the church.
Hatay, one of Turkey’s most multicultural provinces, is home to various ethnic and religious groups, including Turks, Arab Sunnis and Alevis, Syriac Orthodox Christians, Syriac Catholics and Armenians.
“It is a very important church for Christians, especially the fact that it was declared a place of pilgrimage by the Pope, which makes it even more special. I think it is a very important place for the promotion of our country,” said Selçuk Öztürk, another visitor.
Carved into the mountainside, the church is almost 10 meters wide, 13 meters long and seven meters high, and in 2011 was added to UNESCO’s Tentative World Heritage List.
According to UNESCO’s website, the church, the world’s very first cathedral, dates to the years 38-39 A.D. and was dedicated to the first pope, St. Pierre.
“The church was announced as a place of pilgrimage by the pope in 1963 since it “witnessed the first Christians and their meetings,” said the website.