14 oldest Orthodox churches in Russia and the world

Review of the best according to the editorial board. On the selection criteria. This material is subjective, does not constitute advertising and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

Guardians of national culture, silent witnesses of the past, rare examples of architecture – all these are the oldest Orthodox churches. Russian religious buildings have survived a lot in their lifetime – raids by conquerors, wars, fires, etc. World monuments of Orthodox architecture – a symbol of memory – unique and ancient. Further – about the oldest and most unusual Orthodox churches.

The oldest Orthodox churches in Russia and the world: top-14 oldest religious buildings

Nomination a place name Foundation date
The oldest Orthodox churches in Russia 1 Church of John the Baptist, Kerch 9 CENTURY
2 Saint Sophia Cathedral, Veliky Novgorod 10th CENTURY
3 TEMPLE IN THE NIZHNE-ARKHYZ TOWN, KARACHAYEVO-CHERKESIA 10th CENTURY
4 Peter and Paul Church, Smolensk 11th CENTURY
5 Assumption Cathedral, Vladimir 12th CENTURY
6 Spassky Cathedral, Kostomarovo 12th CENTURY
7 ESKI-KERMEN, CRIMEA 12th CENTURY
8 Church of the Deposition of the Robe, Kirillov 15th CENTURY
THE OLDEST ORTHODOX CHURCHES OF THE WORLD 1 Garre Church, Iran 1 CENTURY
2 'Home' church, Syria 3 CENTURY
3 Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Israel 5 CENTURY
4 Hagia Sophia, Turkey 6 CENTURY
5 Mary's Church (Hanging Church), Egypt 7 CENTURY
6 Karakal monastery, Greece 11th century

The oldest Orthodox churches in Russia

Church of John the Baptist, Kerch

Rating: 5.0

Church of John the Baptist, Kerch

Foundation date: 9th century

The oldest of the active churches on the territory of Russia, which existed even before the formation of Kievan Rus. The temple has a long and complex history. It was built by the Byzantines during their reign on the territory of modern Russia. The exact date of the construction of the church is not known for certain: historians are guided by a Greek inscription on one of the church columns. It says that Kyriakos, son of George, grandson of Vindir, was buried in the church in 752.

Researchers believe that during the construction of the temple, elements of an older structure (approximately 6th century) were used. Among them are carved marble columns with blue veins, Greek amphorae in the walls (eliminating echoes and amplifying the sound) and burnt Byzantine bricks. The bright red and white masonry used in the construction of the church is a recognizable element of the architecture of ancient Byzantium.

Stone blocks were interspersed with plinths (the 'ancestor' of bricks) to create a solid, durable structure. This not least contributed to the fact that the structure has survived to this day.

From the time of the construction of the church, the foundation, powerful columns and a courtyard with a famous stone slab, in which Andrew the First-Called left his footprint, remained. During the period of the Crimean Khanate, the Church of John the Baptist was used as a mosque (Muslims painted over all wall paintings). Later, the building was repeatedly altered by Russian princes; under the Polovtsians, the temple was empty. During the Soviet era, it was closed: the city lapidarium, a museum of archaeological antiquities, was located here.

Saint Sophia Cathedral, Veliky Novgorod

Rating: 4.9

Saint Sophia Cathedral, Veliky Novgorod

Established: 10th century

The oldest of the stone buildings of the times of Kievan Rus, preserved to this day. Once Prince Mstislav said: “Where St. Sophia is, there is Novgorod.” The famous Sofia Cathedral was founded back in 1045 by Yaroslav the Wise himself and his son Vladimir. Throughout its almost thousand-year history, the temple remains the most important cathedral church of the Novgorod land.

The incredibly beautiful white-stone cathedral was built in record time – in just 5 years. Today the walls of the temple are white, but this was not always the case. Initially, its vaults were covered with frescoes, and the walls (both outside and inside) were completely uncovered. But the frescoes did not appear on the building immediately: only 50 years after the consecration of the temple. Some fragments of them remained on the central dome.

But the images of Saints Constantine and Helena in the Martyrievskaya porch have survived to this day. Moreover, not only this fact is remarkable, but also the technique in which the work was done: painting was carried out not on wet plaster (traditionally), but on dry. Such examples of the creation of frescoes no longer exist. The temple also preserved a prayer place for the tsar, established by order of Ivan the Terrible. The chandelier, donated to the temple by Boris Godunov, has also survived.

Temple at the Nizhne-Arkhyz settlement, Karachay-Cherkessia

Rating: 4.7

Temple at the Nizhne-Arkhyz settlement, Karachay-Cherkessia

Established: 10th century

One of the oldest religious buildings built on the territory of modern Russia even before the formation of Russia. The Northern temple, made of stone, is located not far from Nizhny Arkhyz – the territory on which in former times was the capital of the ancient state of Alania, whose inhabitants converted to Christianity half a century before the baptism of Rus.

The walls of the building are made of sandstone; thin stone slabs with a birch bark layer inside were used to decorate the roof. This is a rather unusual architectural technique that was not used anywhere in the North Caucasus. The only baptismal font in Alanya was installed inside the temple. The building was built in honor of Saint Nicholas – the patron saint of Nicholas the Mystic – the then Patriarch of Constantinople.

In the entire history of its existence, the Northern Temple has never been rebuilt: its present appearance is identical to the one that was 1000 years ago. On the rocks located near the temple, you can still see the face of Jesus Christ written directly on the stone. Currently, there are no divine services in the Northern Church. Exception – May 6: the day of remembrance of the most revered saint in the Caucasus – George the Victorious.

Peter and Paul Church, Smolensk

Rating: 4.8

Peter and Paul Church, Smolensk

Established: 11th century

The Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is the oldest in the city. The monumental religious building was built in 1146 by order of the grandson of Vladimir Monomakh – Rostislav Mstislavovich. According to the idea, the Peter and Paul Cathedral was to become a modest haven for the prayers of the Smolensk princes.

The church was erected using thin wedges, individual elements of which were fastened with clay. The walls were not covered with plaster, which distinguishes the temple from other structures of the pre-Mongol period. Although historians are inclined to believe that most of the religious objects of that time were just like that.

In the 16th century, when the Time of Troubles came – Smolensk was captured by the troops of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – the temple was transformed into a Catholic church. It was here that the residence of the famous Greek Catholic religious figure, Archbishop Lev Krevz-Rzhevusky was located. For the convenience of the latter, in the 30s of the 17th century, two-story chambers were built near the temple. After the building was returned to the bosom of the Russian church (1654), the temple again began to act as an Orthodox church.

During the Napoleonic invasion, the church was plundered, and the raging fire did its job: the building was badly damaged (even the bells were melted). After the reconstruction, the Peter and Paul Church acquired a radically different look.

Assumption Cathedral, Vladimir

Rating: 4.6

Assumption Cathedral, Vladimir

Established: 12th century

The construction of a white-stone cathedral in Vladimir began about 800 years ago, during the reign of Prince Andrey Bogolyubov. According to his plan, the temple under construction was to become the most important temple of a strong principality – Vladimir-Suzdal Rus and a symbol of the unity of all Russian lands.

The work was carried out quickly and on a large scale, and the height of the Vladimir church surpassed even the Kiev and Novgorod ones. The church is not inferior to them in splendor: the walls of the building are decorated with luxurious frescoes, on the floor there are colored mosaics and gilded slabs, under the arches there are chandeliers of gold and silver.

The cathedral had many trials: it repeatedly burned in the fire, but miraculously revived. The first and most terrible fire happened in 1238, during the invasion of the city of Khan Batu. The inhabitants who had taken refuge in the temple perished in the smoke of the fire, all the relics were plundered, the paintings of incredible beauty were damaged, but the temple survived the fire. It was restored a century later. It was during that period, and this was the beginning of the 15th century, that the walls of the temple were painted by Andrei Rublev. Today the church is one of the few where you can see the work of the famous Russian icon painter.

Spassky Cathedral, Kostomarovo

Rating: 4.5

Spassky Cathedral, Kostomarovo

Established: 12th century

Many cave temples have taken refuge in the Voronezh steppes, but the Spassky Monastery, built near the village of Kostomarovo, is the largest and oldest of them. The structure was literally hollowed out in chalk – bizarre pillars ('divas'), whose origin is still unclear.

Construction work was started by local monks in the 12th century and continued with minor interruptions for as long as 200 years. The result of painstaking and complex work was a grandiose cathedral with a capacity of 2000 people. The external decoration of the temple is magnificent domes and mosaic icons, inside the walls are decorated with frescoes carved directly into the rock.

Near the temple, on the hillside, there are cells of hermit monks, severe in their asceticism, green from the dampness. But the most gloomy and mysterious place of the monastery is the Cave of Repentance, which is a dark corridor leading to a tiny confessional cell. Before the 1917 revolution, the most ardent sinners were sent to the Spassky Cathedral. Today it is a place of pilgrimage.

Eski-Kermen, Crimea

Rating: 4.3

Eski-Kermen, Crimea

Established: 12th century

One of the most unusual buildings in the country and the most unusual on the Crimean peninsula. The temple is part of the cave city of Eski-Kermen. This is a modest size church, carved right into the limestone rock. Has a miniature area of ​​19 square meters.

A window and 2 small entrances were cut in a huge boulder. On the northern wall, only one fresco with an unusual plot remained intact, which gave the name to the temple. The image shows 3 figures – horsemen in fluttering cloaks. The central figure is George the Victorious, piercing a dragon with a spear, on either side of him are horsemen with spears. It is likely that these are just images of local heroes: 2 graves were cut right in the floor of the building.

Church of the Deposition of the Robe, Kirillov

Rating: 4.4

Church of the Deposition of the Robe, Kirillov

Date of foundation: 15th century

It is the oldest structure in the country made of wood. An important clarification – with a confirmed date. The fact is that the Church of the Deposition of the Robe has a rival – the Church of the Resurrection of Lazarus. For a long time it was considered the oldest (14th century), but there are no documents confirming the age of the structure.

But with the Church of St. Cyril, it is more and more accurate – its age is indicated on a canvas antimension (a piece of fabric with a sewn-in piece of the saint's relics): the temple was consecrated in 1485. In addition, a dendrological study of the log cabins used in the construction of the temple was carried out: it showed that the cutting of trees was carried out approximately in the 80s of the 15th century.

The foundation stone of the temple was carried out by Archbishop Joasaph, known in the world as Prince Ivan Obolensky, who was tonsured a monk after the death of his wife during childbirth. The church looks very modest, made of 3 log cabins of different heights. During the Soviet years, the temple was lucky to remain intact: it was recognized as an architectural monument. In order to preserve the structure, it was transported to the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, restored before transportation. Today services are not held in the church.

The oldest Orthodox churches in the world

Garre Church, Iran

Rating: 5.0

Garre Church, Iran

Date of foundation: 1st century

According to the legend described in the sources of 3-5 centuries, Tataus (in the local dialect this is the name of the Apostle Thaddeus) was a preacher and died a martyr in the north-west of Iran. It was on his grave that the Garre church was erected in 68. This is the oldest church in the world. Translated from Turkish, 'gare' means 'black'. The reason that the structure received a similar name is the black stone used in its construction.

The church is splendidly decorated: on its walls there is a variety of paintings, probably on mythological themes. The height of the black dome of the building is 18 meters, the height of the white one is 24 meters. The Mongol-Tatar invasion caused terrible damage to the temple: most of it was destroyed. The building was restored only in the 16th century.

Christian Armenians are convinced that the Garre Church is the first religious building in the world, built by the evangelists of Christ. Every year in July, on the anniversary of the death of Tataus, believers hold commemorative services in the church.

'Home' church, Syria

Rating: 4.9

Home '' Church, Syria

Foundation date: 3rd century

The religious building, found on the ruins of the ancient city of Dura Europolis, is considered one of the oldest on the planet among the 'representatives' of Christianity, and the frescoes that decorate it are the earliest example of Christian art. This makes it possible for specialists to assume that the early Christian artistic tradition was formed not at all in the West, but in the East.

In the ancient city, archaeologists have discovered many temples of different religions and a Christian complex, now known as the 'house church'. In fact, it is an ordinary Roman house that has been adapted for religious practices. In the center there is an atrium, in the southern part of the house there is a room for 70 people, in the northwest there is a swimming pool used as a baptistery (place for baptism). The walls once adorned with frescoes depicting Adam and Eve, various Gospel scenes (today they have survived only to some extent).

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Israel

Rating: 4.8

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Israel

Established: 5th century

The main Christian shrine, and since the 4th century – a place of constant pilgrimage for Christians around the world. The temple is presented as a whole complex. Erected on Mount Calvary, where, according to the Scriptures, Jesus was crucified. The religious building is located in the old part of Jerusalem and is the headquarters of the Jerusalem Orthodox Church. Throughout its long history, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has experienced a lot: a powerful earthquake in 1545 and a terrible fire that raged in 1808.

It is in this temple that the rite of the descent of the Holy Fire is held annually: it is broadcast on TV throughout the world. Liturgy on the Holy Sepulcher is performed alternately by Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Armenians. In order to avoid discord between representatives of different confessions, the keys to the temple have traditionally been kept in the Arab family of Judy since 638, and the right to unlock the entrance belongs to another family – Nuseiba. This privilege has been passed down from father to son for over 900 years.

Hagia Sophia, Turkey

Rating: 4.7

Hagia Sophia, Turkey

Established: 6th century

The ancient monumental building annually attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world. The cathedral amazes with the splendor of its architecture, the subtlety of the mosaics and the incredible aura. Its walls are covered with a bizarre mixture of Christian symbols and Arabic script.

The majestic religious site is built on a hill where the sanctuary of the goddess Artemis was located until 360. For the implementation of an incredible project, marble columns were brought from Lebanon and Greece, the altar was decorated with rubies and amethyst. The amazing luxury impressed the Russian ambassadors, they became convinced of the truth of the Orthodox faith, and persuaded Prince Vladimir to accept Christianity.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet rode into the temple on horseback and ordered to rebuild it into a mosque. He was such for 500 years, becoming one of the most important Muslim shrines. In 1935, the founder of modern Turkey converted it into a museum.

Mary's Church (Hanging Church), Egypt

Rating: 4.6

Mary's Church (Hanging Church), Egypt

Established: 7th century

The religious building of Egypt, the most famous temple of the Copts in Cairo. The church got its unofficial name due to its unusual location: it is located right above the gatehouse of the fortress wall of the old city from the period of the Roman era. To enter the church, you will have to climb an impressive staircase.

The main architectural features of the temple are unique, luxuriously inlaid bas-reliefs and the pulpit. Made of marble, the element is located on 13 pillars, 12 of which are supplemented with images of Christ's disciples. The hanging church is adorned with numerous frescoes and valuable, ancient icons.

Karakal monastery, Greece

Rating: 4.5

Karakal monastery, Greece

Established: 11th century

The holy monastery is located high above the sea, on Mount Athos, between two other holy monasteries – Iveron and the Great Lavra. The first buildings of the structure appeared in the 2nd century. The Roman emperor Caracalla contributed to this. But, since he was a pagan, he could not have a relationship with the monastery. A more likely version is the founding of the monastery by the monk Karakal in the 11th century.

But after a couple of centuries, Latin pressure and pirate raids led to the desolation of the monastery. Emperor John V revived the monastery during his reign, but soon it became empty again due to pirate raids. The final restoration of the structure (its main part) became possible only in the 19th century.

The monastery houses many valuable religious objects: a piece of the Life-giving Cross, pieces of the relics of several saints, martyrs, as well as the head of St. Christopher and the Apostle Bartholomew.


Attention! This rating is subjective and does not constitute an advertisement and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

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