Pilgrims have already begun pouring in, on the last leg of a tour through the sites of the seven Biblical churches, all of which are in western Turkey. Tourism to the site increased tenfold in the first months of this year, to 1,000 visitors a day.
(Alasehir, Turkey)â€”Turkey is cultivating its image as “a meeting-point and arbiter of civilization” by discovering and restoring historical Christian sites. Hopefully, officials say, they trust Christians will feel free to make pilgrimages and pray at many of the sites. (Photo: Ibrahim Usta/Associated Press)
As reported in the New York Times, the sites are not only historically fascinating, they are myriad. In addition to Biblically-known locations, such as Laodicea and Ephesus, there are also towns such as Iznik, the site of Nicaea, where two of the seven Ecumenical Councils were held.
Turkey’s cultural minister, Mr. Gunay, was quoted as saying the Turkish government had granted permission for annual religious services to be held in several historical churches that are otherwise classified as museums, which makes it illegal to worship there. One is the Church of Saint Nicholas in Demre, ancient Myra, which is visited by 400,000 tourists a year.
Another, according to the report, is the Orthodox monastery of Sumela, which is near Trabzon on the Black Sea, had been closed since 1923 and was re-opened last summer for its first religious service in 88 years, drawing thousands of Orthodox pilgrims.