The remains of a 1,600-year-old Byzantine basilica that was built to honor a martyr who stood up for his faith during the worst Christian persecution under the Roman Empire will now become a museum.
Archaeologists suspect that the church found at the site of the Councils of Nicaea was built in the year 325. If the assessment is correct, the timing actually places the church right around during the time of the First Council of Nicaea.
"We have found church remains. It is in a basilica plan and has three naves," Mustafa Sahin, an archaeology professor at Bursa Uludag University, told Hurriyet News.
The ancient basilica was first captured through aerial photographs taken in 2014. Its exact location is placed at the bottom of 5-7 feet of water in Lake Iznik in Bursa, Turkey.
The experts determined that the basilica was destroyed after it collapsed during an earthquake in 740. The ruins were never rebuilt and eventually were submerged under water.
Named one of the Top 10 Discoveries of 2014 by the Archaeological Institute of America, the church will now become a sight for tourists to visit. Aleteia.org says plans have been set in motion to open an underwater museum that will allow people to view the foundation of the church.
According to professor Sahin, the church was most likely built in the 4th century, in honor of St. Neophytos. Neophytos was born in Nicaea of Bithynia to Christian parents and eventually became a martyr under Roman emperor Diocletian's harsh persecution of Christians in 303.
In history, it is documented that Neophytos traveled to Nicaea (known as modern-day northwest Turkey) to confront the false belief of his hometown and publicly denounce the pagan faith. The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez calls Diocletian's persecution of Christians the "most cruel" punishment that ancient believers had to endure and unfortunately Neophytos fell victim to that.
He was killed by Roman soldiers in A.D. 303, 10 years before Christianity was legalized by the Roman Empire under Constantine rules. The discovered basilica was reportedly built on the spot where Neophytos was killed in the most brutal manner.
The Orthodox Church of America describes the martyrdom below:
"The enraged persecutors suspended the saint from a tree, they whipped him with ox thongs, and scraped his body with iron claws. Then they threw him into a red-hot oven, but the holy martyr remained unharmed, spending three days and three nights in it. The torturers, not knowing what else to do with him, decided to kill him. One of the pagans ran him through with a sword (some say it was a spear), and the saint departed to the Lord at the age of sixteen."
Sahin told Hurriyet News that he believes the basilica was built as a result of the First Council of Nicaea held in the year 325.
"Most probably, it could have been built in 325 after the first council meeting in İznik. In any case, we think that the church was built in the 4th century or a further date. It is interesting that we have gravures from the Middle Ages depicting this killing. We see Neophytos being killed on the lake coast," Sahin explained.