January 24, 2015

The "Greatest Church in the World" at Archeopark Island Museum in Erdek

Zeytinliada, an island in the Marmara Sea just southwest of Erdek, has remains of a Byzantine monastery of the 13th to 14th century and a church of the Virgin Mary, known in ancient sources as “the greatest church in the world”, that dates to the early Byzantine period. Nurettin Öztürk of Atatürk University, Erzurum, began excavations at the site in 2006.

As well as the main church and baptistery, the buildings include a chapel, baths and a saint's tomb, among other tombs. Due to its recent discovery and excavation, the local government has authorized it to become the Archeopark Island Museum in order to attract tourists to the area, especially among Orthodox Christians. Zeytinliada will be the first archeopark island museum in Turkey, Erdek Mayor Hüseyin Aysan said. “The area, which covers 200 square meters, will be transformed into a museum."

Importance of the site

The project began with the support of the Culture Ministry, Directorate of Archaeology and Museums and Erdek Municipality in 2006, said Öztürk.

“During the excavation of the site called the East Church, it took three years to unearth the church itself,” Öztürk was quoted as saying in an earlier Anatolia news agency report.

“The church was located in the monastery complex and also served as a baptistery church. Both belong to the early Byzantine era. The story of the construction of the church is very similar to that of the Hagia Sophia, dating back to 532-537 A.D.,” Öztürk said.

The plan of the church’s construction is typical of Orthodox church architecture. “The pool of the baptistery is different from others: It is two meters long, made of marble and carved with a unique design. These features make it unique,” Öztürk said.

“Our work has progressed,” he said in 2012. “Restrooms, walkways and observation zones are under construction. A restoration project will be brought into action. This is an important place for religious tourism.”

Ecclesiastical history of Erdek (Cyzicus or Kyzikos)

Cyzicus, as capital of the Roman province of Hellespontus, was its ecclesiastical metropolitan see. In the Notitiae Episcopatuum of Pseudo-Epiphanius, composed in about 640, Cyzicus had 12 suffragan sees; Abydos, Baris in Hellesponto (between Sariköy and Biga), Dardanos, Germa in Hellesponto (ruins of Germaslu, Kirmasti, Girmas), Hadrianotherae (Uzuncia yayla), Ilium, Lampsakos, Miletopolis, Oca, Pionia (Avcılar), Poemanenum (Eskimanias), Troas. The province also included two autocephalous archiepiscopal sees: Parium and Proconnesus. Cyzicus remained a metropolitan see of the Greek Orthodox Church until the 1923 Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations emptied it of Greek Orthodox faithful, whether they spoke Greek or Turkish. The last bishop of the see died in 1932. No longer a residential bishopric, Cyzicus is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see. Cyzicus is also one of the titular metropolises in Turkey of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Cyzicus had a catalogue of bishops beginning with the 1st century; Michel Le Quien (I, 747) mentions fifty-nine. A more complete list is found in Nikodemos, in the Greek "Office of St. Emilian" (Constantinople, 1876), 34-36, which has eighty-five names. Of particular importance are the famous Arian theologian Eunomius of Cyzicus; Saint Dalmatius; bishops Proclus and Germanus, who became Patriarchs of Constantinople; and Saint Emilian, a martyr in the 8th century. Another saint who came from Cyzicus is Saint Tryphaena of Cyzicus. Tryphaena is the patron saint of the city. Gelasius, a historian of Arianism, who wrote about 475, was born at Cyzicus.