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Qirqbize church

Qirqbize church
Qirqbize church from the northeast. / Frank Kidner, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

WorldBlue  In short

In one of the Dead Cities of Northern Syria – Qirqbize – are ruins of a comparatively large building. This is Qirqbize church – a very old church building that, possibly, was built in the early 4th century AD.

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GPS coordinates
36.1755 N 36.5853 E
Location, address
Asia, Syria, Idlib Governorate, Harem District, Qurqaniah Subdistrict, Qirqbize ruins (one of the Dead Cities of Northern Syria)
Name in Arabic
كنيسة قرقبيزه‎
Alternate names
Qirkbizé, Qirq Bize, Qirq Biza, Qiorq Bizeh, Qarqbizeh, Kirkbize, Kirk Bizeh, Kirkbizeh church
Year of construction
The first third of the 4th century AD (according to Georges Tchalenko) or late 4th – early 5th century AD (according to Christine Strube)
UNESCO World Heritage status
QalbLozé part of "Ancient Villages of Northern Syria", 2011, No. 1348

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

Dead Cities of Northern Syria

South wall of the nave of Qirqbize church
South wall of the nave of Qirqbize church. / Frank Kidner, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

There is a little-known, amazing cultural landscape in the north-western part of Syria: extensive ruins of some 40 (!) larger and numerous smaller settlements. There in the 1st – 10th centuries AD lived thousands of prosperous people, who, most likely, benefited from the international trade through this region.

Around the 6th century AD the power of the Byzantine Empire gradually decreased and trade routes changed. This area was abandoned around the 10th century AD but the ruins of numerous magnificent buildings persist up to this day. Many of these buildings have been preserved very well and provide valuable information about life in the late Antiquity – Byzantine periods.

In these Dead Cities are located several very old church buildings from the 4th century AD and the oldest known church there is the Qirqbize church.

Description of the Qirqbize church

Qirqbize church is located next to a large villa. The research results of this building have been published by two researchers – Georges Tchalenko and Christine Strube – and the conclusions about the building differ among them.

It is possible that this is a building that was specifically built to be a church by the owner of the private villa next to it. Thus, it might be not a true house church. House churches are rebuilt former houses similar to the world’s oldest known existing church building – Dura-Europos house church.

Bema in Qirqbize church
Bema in Qirqbize church. / Frank Kidner, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

The villa close to this church building was, most likely, built earlier, in the 3rd century. It is a fairly large house that (by its size) would fit in a contemporary town, and, most likely, belonged to an affluent family.

The church was built sometime in the first third of the 4th century AD (according to the analysis of Tchalenko) or in the late 4th – early 5th century (according to Strube). It seems, from the outside this building was similar to other villas in the village, thus, it still was similar to house churches.

This church has simple planning that by some researchers is named aula ecclesiae: it has a simple, larger hall.

The architecture of the Qirqbize church has many similarities to the temples of other religions. It has bema – an elevated platform near the middle of the hall where the preacher was standing. This is characteristic of Greek temples and later Roman temples and also some 50 ancient churches in the Dead Cities of Northern Syria. There is also an ornamented lectern – a stone throne for a book. It, presumably, was used for sacred scriptures that were read to the local Christians during their gatherings. Analysis of the ornamentation shows that it, most likely, was placed there in the 5th century AD.

References
  1. Georges Tchalenko, Villages antiques de la Syrie du Nord, Paris, 1953-1958, ASIN: B0014P0UBY.

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