Churches In The Lycus River Valley In Turkey

The Church at Hierapolis in Asia Minor

by David Padfield

The ruins of several well-preserved temples can still be seen in Hierapolis. The city today is known as Pamukkale ("the cotton castle" of white travertine terraces). The beautiful white cliffs around Hierapolis were formed by the calcium-oxide mixing with calcium in the hot water springs which flow to the plain of the river Maeander below. The water temperature of the spring is 95 degrees. This hot water brought about the worship of Heracles, the god of health and hot waters.

"Another quality of the Pamukkale water is that it cleans dirt, bleaches wool and fixes the color of dyes. Wool, which has been dyed in alizarin, turns purple after being washed in this water." (Tevhit Kekeç, Pamukkale, p. 30).

Hierapolis ("holy city") was its Roman name. Hierapolis, along with Laodicea, was the center of the ministry of Epaphras (Col. 4:13). There was a "Congregation of Jews" in this city. Pagan worship in Hierapolis centered around Cybele, Apollo, Artemis, Men, Poseidon, and Pluto.

"Hierapolis was a famous health resort, with medicinal baths in the streams. It was considered a sacred city... Apollo was the patron deity here. The splendid ruins bear witness to the magnificence of this city. Here the priests of Cybele made the city the center of her mystic worship. These priests alone were considered immune from the mephitic vapor of the Plutonian or hot spring at Hierapolis. The scenery is very striking all around the city with the high cliffs of calcareous stone. There are rich mineral deposits in the valley and the mountains. From the waters were obtained precious mineral dyes (black, purple, scarlet), which gave the fine thick wool of the sheep a ready market like the fame of Thyatira. Inscriptions mention the guild of dyers as prominent in the life of Hierapolis." (A.T. Robertson, Paul and the Intellectuals, pp. 1-2).

In 1957 Italian archaeologists began to excavate the ruins of the city. The large Roman thermal bath is now part of the museum at Hierapolis.

Under to the Temple of Apollo (3rd century A.D.) was the Plutonium-Chronion (or, Charonion), a shrine to the god of the underworld. This was believed to be an entrance to the underworld. Carbon dioxide gases escaped from the cave with lethal effects. Small animals, especially birds, that came close to the cave would die quickly of suffocation. The priestesses of the goddess Cybele survived by holding their breath as the entered for brief periods of time. When they came out of the cave the people believed a "miracle" had happened, and the priests would claim they were in contact with "demons" in the cave.

The Roman theater at Hierapolis is very well preserved. The front length is over 300 feet, with 50 tiers. The columns in the theater are decorated with mythological reliefs. This theater was "restored" under Septimius Severus in 205-10 A.D.

There is also a building thought to be the "Martyrium of St. Philip." Philip (either the apostle or the evangelist) and his daughter are thought to have lived here. It is claimed that Philip was killed here in 80 A.D. The shrine to his martyrdom is dated back to the fifth century A.D. Philip's grave has not been discovered.

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