Discovery of Secret Church in Syria sheds light on early Christianity under the Roman Empire

Amidst the rubble of a Syrian city, a discovery was made that transports us back to the Roman empire, a time of hiding for early Christians. Ancient ruins of a refuge and a place of worship for Christians have been uncovered in Manbij, Syria. Experts say the ruins might date back to the first centuries of Christianity.

ISIS controlled the territory for over two years and overlooked the ancient underground church, in fact, they used it as a dumping ground for garbage. Unbeknownst to them, the old gate on an empty mound of land ran several feet into the ground to an early church that initially existed under the Roman Empire.

Abdulwahab Sheko, head of the Exploration Committee at the Ruins Council in Manbij describes the discovery to Fox news saying, “I was so excited, I can’t describe it. I was holding everything in my hands.”

ISIS militants were unaware of the site’s existence. (Fox News) fair use

“This place is so special. Here is where I think the security guard would stand at the gate watching for any movement outside,” Sheko explained, working his way through what he called the “first location” of the site. “He could warn the others to exit through the other passage if they needed to flee.”

Artifacts with Christian symbols such as crosses and writings etched into stone were brought out of the secret church. Narrow tunnels leading to small rooms with openings for light to shine through the ceiling provided a place for early Christians to escape the Roman Empire to pray and worship the savior of all humanity. The church is complete with escape routes covered by large stones as hidden doors. Three jagged steps lead up to what Sheko believes was once an altar.


Leading American archaeologist John Wineland says that the discovery of a secret church that dates back to the third or fourth century A.D. is a remarkable find.

Experts are now studying the ancient Christian site. (Fox News) Fair Use

“They indicate that there was a significant Christian population in the area which felt they needed to hide their activities,” said John Wineland, professor of history and archaeology at Southeastern University. “This is probably an indication of the persecution by the Roman government, which was common in the period.”

Wineland said Christians were persecuted “sporadically at first, and later more systematically by the Roman government.” Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire until Emperor Constantine decriminalized its worship in 313 A.D.

Christians of the time “met in secret, underground, to avoid trouble. But the Romans were fearful of any group that met in secret,” said Wineland.

This image shows Roman architectural pieces made of limestone and two basalt figures (dark stone). (Fox News) Fair Use

“The Romans misunderstood many Christian practices and would often charge them with crimes, such as cannibalism,” Wineland added. He said such charges stemmed from the “Roman misunderstanding of Christian communion where Christ said to take and eat His body and drink His blood.”

Further into the subterranean maze is a “graveyard,” Sheko said, likely reserved for the church clergy. Each tomb there bares an elevated “stone cushion” for the head.

Locals discovered a second location in the town that appears to be a Christian church that was in existence after Roman acceptance of Christianity.

mosaic, early Christian church (Fox News) Fair use

Despite Christianity’s complicated history in Syria, however, Sheko said he wants to make clear his commitment to unearthing and protecting whatever ruins he and his team might find.

“We are Muslim, but we are not like ISIS Muslims,” he said. “We take care of these Christian ruins. We respect them. We respect humanity.”

Currently, a young man and his AK-47 guard the locations. And outside of the nondescript Ruins Council office, precious artifacts are just being left on the street, due to lack of resources for safeguarding and “no museum to put it in,” Sheko said.

The uncovering of these ancient churches tells the story of Christ’s early followers, and their persistence to worship God in the midst of great persecution.

Works Cited

Hollie McKay. “Ancient Christian ruins discovered under former ISIS-held territory.” Fox News. . (2018): . .