The Nicea Church: Where Did the Council of Nicea Meet?

Underwater evidence in Turkey provides clues

In 325 C.E., Emperor Constantine assembled more than 300 bishops together in Nicea (today, Iznik in Turkey) to come to a consensus on whether Jesus was a created being or divine. The early church had been in such conflict over this issue that Constantine felt it imperative to unite Christian leaders and define their religious doctrine. The resulting resolution—the Nicene Creed (which was subsequently expanded upon in later council meetings)—affirmed Jesus’s divine nature. Where exactly did the Council of Nicea meet in 325? As described in their article “Nicea’s Underwater Basilica” in the November/December 2018 issue of BAR, Mustafa Şahin and Mark R. Fairchild have an idea.
 


 
In the free eBook Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, learn about the cultural contexts for the theology of Paul and how Jewish traditions and law extended into early Christianity through Paul’s dual roles as a Christian missionary and a Pharisee.
 


 
In 2014, an ancient basilica was discovered 165 feet off the coast of Iznik, submerged 6–10 feet under Lake Askanios. Subsequent survey and excavation headed by Professor Mustafa Şahin of Uludağ University determined that this Nicea church had three aisles and a central apse and dated to the late fourth–early fifth century C.E.

nicea-church

Visible in this aerial view are the submerged remains of the late fourth–early fifth century C.E. Nicea church near Iznik in Turkey. Beneath this lies an earlier church that may have accommodated the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. Photo: Mustafa Şahin.

The floor of the basilica’s nave lay 1.6 feet lower than its walls, suggesting to the archaeologists that the basilica had been built over an earlier structure. And this earlier structure, it seems, had been constructed atop a necropolis, as evidenced by the discovery of several graves. Şahin and Fairchild elaborate on the significance of these graves:

Was the church built on this spot to commemorate the burial place of a saint, possibly an early martyr? Perhaps this is why the church was constructed outside of the southwestern walls of the city. (A city’s necropolis was always outside of its walls.)

A late Byzantine tradition claims that St. Neophytos was martyred in Nicea during the reign of Diocletian (284–305). According to the tradition, Neophytos was slain because he refused to offer a sacrifice to the gods when the governor Decius came to the city and commanded the people to do so. The storyline in the tradition is late and legendary, but there is good reason to believe that the tradition echoes the martyrdom of Neophytos in Nicea.

It was common for early Christians to desire burial near the tombs of saints and martyrs. These places became sites for memorials, as well as places for worship. This may account for the reason this church was built not only outside of the city walls of Nicea, but also over a burial site. Several coins found at the graves date from the time of Emperor Valens (364–378) and Emperor Valentinian (378–383).

The archaeologists suggest that the graves surrounded the tomb of Neophytos.

nicea-christ-pantocrator

This fifth–sixth century C.E. token discovered near the Nicea basilica depicts the image of Christ Pantocrator (“ruler of all”)—Jesus sitting on a throne with his right hand making a gesture of a blessing and his left holding a copy of the scriptures. Photo: Mustafa Şahin.

Eusebius of Caesarea, an early Christian historian, described the Council of Nicea as follows: “The most eminent servants of God from all the churches that filled Europe, Africa, and Asia gathered together, and one place of worship, as if expanded by God, accommodated the people.”

Şahin and Fairchild posit that the early Christian church underneath the fourth–fifth-century basilica, constructed at such a meaningful location, could have been the place where Constantine first convened over 300 bishops in 325 C.E. The Council of Nicea would eventually move to—and conclude in—Constantine’s palace in Nicea.

To further explore the archaeological discoveries off the shore of Nicea, from structural remains to coins to the skeletons of those buried in this important city, read the full article “Nicea’s Underwater Basilica” by Mustafa Şahin and Mark R. Fairchild in the November/December 2018 issue of BAR.

——————

Subscribers: Read the full article “Nicea’s Underwater Basilica” by Mustafa Şahin and Mark R. Fairchild in the November/December 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a subscriber yet? Join today.
 


 
In the free eBook Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, learn about the cultural contexts for the theology of Paul and how Jewish traditions and law extended into early Christianity through Paul’s dual roles as a Christian missionary and a Pharisee.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The Church of Laodicea in the Bible and Archaeology

When Did Christianity Begin to Spread?

The Origin of Christianity

The Archaeological Quest for the Earliest Christians by Douglas Boin

Posted in Biblical Archaeology Sites.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Add Your Comments

3 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  • Andrew says

    The fact is Christianity had far more adherents EAST of Jerusalem than west of her in the first four centuries of the faith. Constantine had no sway over the Church the East (Assyrian rite) in the Persian Empire. The accepted the original Nicene Creed” in absentia but rejected the later and inferior revisions of it done at the Council of Chalcidon in 451 CE.

    What most of his apologists don’t tell you is that when Christians in the west got protection from Constantine, Christians in the Persian Empire who had been tolerant to these same folks persecuted them because they were viewed as friends of Rome. Constantine also purged from his ranks members of the Nazarenes, the original Jewish followers who were also Torah observant, along with persecuting Jews in general–who suffered as the Western Christians came into their own. Rome isn’t the whole story. Look eastward for the rest or else you will believe that there was no other game in town, and that is simply not true.

  • Daniel says

    Constantine sorry

  • Daniel says

    Constance was not a baptized Christian at the Council of Nicea. He waited until 337.The Roman Church was a Pagan bastardisation. The Council Nicea abandoned Christianity.


  • Some HTML is OK

    or, reply to this post via trackback.


Send this to a friend

Hello! Your friend thought you might be interested in reading this post from https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org:
The Nicea Church: Where Did the Council of Nicea Meet?!
Here is the link: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/nicea-church-council-of-nicea/
Enter Your Log In Credentials...

Change Password

×