World’s oldest church (probably!)
The church of “Naneh Maryam” (which mean Mother Mary in Farsi), is one of the oldest churches of the world and is located in Urmia, northwest of Iran.
It is believed by the locals that Naneh Maryam church is either the oldest church in the world, or the second oldest right after the great church of Bethlehem in Palestine. This church is historically traced back as far as the year 32AD. In the past centuries, Naneh Maryam church has also been used as a cemetery.
Before building a church, this location has been the site of a Zoroastrian fire temple. As the story goes, upon the birth of Jesus, the Zoroastrian priests of this temple saw a shooting star in the sky and believed that this shooting star was the birth sign of the promised savior. Therefore they started their journey towards Jerusalem in the hope of finding the truth. In Jerusalem, they converted to Christianity and upon returning, converted the fire temple to a church.
Since then the church has been restored many times. These restorations have added mixed architectural styles to the church. For example one very noticeable architectural contradictions is the Gable roof of the church which shows that it was added later on and has nothing to do with the original architectural style of the building.
The current façade of the church was built during the Sasanian Empire (224 – 651).
Naneh Maryam church has 9 pews. On the right of the altar, there is a narrow corridor with a traditional oven built in the wall which is said to be where the holy breads were baked. And next to this oven, there is a Baptismal font.
The church has almost no decorations or moldings. This is due to the fact that Christian Assyrians of that time believed the church should not be decorated in anyway. This is also proven from the other churches of the same era. However during the course of history and after the Assyrian Empire, a number of paintings have been added to the church.