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Turkey is popular with pilgrims in search of the sites associated with the early history of Christianity in what was once Asia Minor. Some of those pilgrims take to the road following in the footsteps of St. Paul, who visited Anatolia on several occasions. Others come in search of the Seven Churches of the Revelation, a phrase rich in meaning to those who know the Bible.

So what were those seven churches and what can be seen at the sites now? 

The Book of Revelation is the mystical last chapter of the New Testament. It was written by St. John the Evangelist (also known as St. John the Apostle and St. John the Theologian), the disciple of Jesus who was with him at his death. St. John the Apostle has also been the author of the Gospel of St. John, one of the earlier books of the New Testament that recounts the life of Jesus. 
As tradition puts it, after the death of Jesus, St. John took Jesus' mother Mary from Jerusalem to Ephesus, by then the largest city of Roman Asia Minor. There he had fallen foul of the authorities by refusing to take part in the imperial cult, which accorded the Roman emperor the status of a divinity and was exiled to Patmos, then a desolate penal colony. 
Already elderly by the time he arrived on Patmos, St. John then had a vision that inspired him to write letters to seven communities (a better translation of the Greek word “ekklesia” than “churches”) scattered around Ephesus. Those letters have been intended to shore up their sometimes-wavering Christian faith. 
Eventually he returned to Ephesus and took up residence on Ayasuluk Hill, now in the center of Seljuk. There, he wrote his Gospel and when he died he was buried on the hill where a great basilica was erected over his grave. 

The Churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

 The Epistles are short exhortations to the Christians to remain steadfast in their faith, to beware of false apostles and to abstain from fornication and from meat offered to idols. The term Apostolic Churches is used to refer to these cities early structural formation. The development in Christian teaching starts with the appearance of the Holy Ghost to the Apostles, the writing of the New Testament. 
“...I was caught up in spirit on the Lord's day and heard behind me a voice as loud as a trumpet, 'Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”(Rev 1:10-11) 

Smyrna (modern Izmir) - Turkey's third most populous city and the country's largest port after Istanbul.

It is located along the outlying waters of the Gulf of İzmir, by the Aegean Sea. The city is one of the oldest settlements of the Mediterranean basin. The original city was established in the third millenium B.C., and at that time shared with Troy the most advanced culture in Western Anatolia. 
Smyrna was the second city to receive a letter from the apostle John in the book of Revelation. Acts 19:10 suggests that the church there was founded during Paul’s third missionary journey. 
Smyrna means “Bitter Sweetness and reflects the real Christian Church starting from 100 AD until 323 AD.  “And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write: These things saith the First and the Last, who was dead and is alive.  I know thy tribulation and thy poverty: but thou art rich” (Rev. 2:8-11). 
Christianity was preached to the inhabitants at an early date. As early as the year 93, there existed a Christian community directed by a bishop for whom St. John in the Apocalypse (1:11; 2:8-11) has only words of praise. There are extant two letters written early in the second century from Troas by St. Ignatius of Antioch to those of Smyrna and to Polycarp, their bishop. 

Philadelphia - (Turkish name Alaşehir, “City of God”)

It was founded in 189 BC by King Eumenes II of Pergamum (197-160 BC), who named the city for the love of his brother who would be his successor, Attalus II (159-138 BC). 
The ancient city of Philadelphia had several temples. It was hit with a devastating earthquake in 17 AD; the city was rebuilt with the help of Emperor Tiberius. Ancient Philadelphia was the sixth of the Seven Churches of Revelation (written around 100 AD). In Revelation 3:12, the believer who overcomes is compared to a pillar in the temple of God. 
Philadelphia is the sixth church of the seven (Rev 1:11). A letter specifically addressed to the Philadelphian church is recorded in (Rev 3:7-13). According to this letter, the Philadelphian Christians were suffering persecution at the hands of the local Jews, whom Revelation calls the synagogue of Satan (Rev 3:9). The city's history of earthquakes may lie behind the reference to making her church a temple pillar (Rev 3:12). Permanency would have been important to the city's residents. 
Philadelphia means Brotherly Love - because the church in Philadelphia has kept faith with Jesus, he will keep them from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth (3:10). This expression hour of trial refers in Revelation to the affliction on the world to come before God’s kingdom is established on the earth. 
Christianity is still prospering in Philadelphia. The Christian population is numerous and has its own bishop and 25 churches. 

Sardis, also Sardes, modern Sart in the Manisa province of Turkey

It was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. It was one of the great cities of western Asia Minor until the later Byzantine period. The early Lydian kingdom was far advanced in the industrial arts and Sardis was the chief seat of its manufactures. There was a huge and magnificent temple of Kybele in Sardis as well as glorious a palace of King Croesus. The king Croesus was the wealthiest man of his time and Sardis became the richest city of antiquity. The famous wise man of Athens, also the reformer, Solon, came to see this great city and its famous king. It is thought that the famous story teller Aesop was a Phrygian who lived in Sardis during the reign of King Croesus. 
“Sardis” means “Of the Flesh. The church at Sardis was pronounced as being dead (3:1). It appeared to be alive – had a reputation of being alive – looked spiritually vibrant on the outside – but was spiritually lifeless. The church was Christian in name only. This recalls Christ’s scathing rebuke of the Pharisees who look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean (Matthew 23:27). 

“Thyatira” means Constant Labor and/or Guarding the Door. 

Thyatira, today is a small Turkish village Akhisar (White Castle) with population less than 7000 people, basically Muslim and very few Christians. There is one very small and old church in the middle of the cemetery. 
Christ praised the church for its love, faith, service and perseverance. The range of praise regarding Thyatira’s spiritual status was perhaps the widest given to any of the seven churches. It was the only church that is said to have improved its spiritual condition (Rev. 2:19). However, the church did need admonishment on one vital issue. The church had tolerated the teachings of a false prophetess. 

At one time, early 2nd Century, Ephesus was the unofficial capatal of Christianity

Ephesus, the name of the Church that had lost its first love, and was historically the shortest, literally means not lasting. 
By far the best known of the communities was Ephesus, which may already have had a population of some 150,000 in the latter half of the first century. Aside from the link with St. John, Ephesus was home for some years to St. Paul until, after angering the trinket-sellers who profited from pilgrims to the Temple of Artemis, he was drummed out of town. 
According to legend, St. John returned to Ephesus by floating on a cork that bore him as far as Miletus. Back in the city, he soon had problems with the temple priests who wanted him to prove the power of his god by drinking poison from a chalice. St. John supposedly made the sign of the cross over it, whereupon the poison slithered out of it in the shape of a snake, an image that came to represent the saint in later icons. He then proceeded to restore to life two criminals who had also been made to drink the poison. 
St. John is said to have performed other miracles at Ephesus, including restoring to life Drusiana, his erstwhile landlady whom he caused to rise from her coffin and trot off home to cook him a meal. 

Laodicea means both “people’s opinions” and people judged. 

This meaning of the name is a reference to what Jesus said about the Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:16, and is related to the implications of Revelations 3:19. In Revelation 3:16, Jesus said that because the Church of Laodicea is lukewarm, He will vomit them out of His mouth. 
In some ways the most rewarding of the seven sites to visit nowadays is Laodicea, near Pamukkale, where archeologists have been working hard to make sense of what was, not so long ago, just a mess of fallen stones. In particular, they are meticulously rebuilding the Byzantine church in the heart of the ruins which features a lovely mosaic floor. 

Colossae or Colossae (also known as Chonae or Kona), was an ancient city of Phrygia.

It flourished as a trading town until eclipsed by neighboring Laodicea. The area around Colossae was famous for fantastic theological theories in early Christian times. Although Paul himself never went there, he addressed his epistle to the Colossians (New Testament letter) through his fellow worker, Epaphras, who lived at Colossae. It was written to the Christians of Colossae and Laodicea, ostensibly by Paul while he was in prison, presumably in Rome (c. AD 60). Its writing was provoked by the appearance of false teachers who taught some sort of Gnostic doctrine involving either the worship of angels or the worship of God in mystical communion with the angels, and ascetic and ritual observance evocative of Jewish practice. The letter was well-known to the ancient fathers of the Church

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