The Seven Churches of Revelation are a popular pilgrimage route in Turkey, though it takes some imagination and historical research to locate all of them.
In the book of Revelation, St. John addresses the seven churches of Asia Minor. In this highly symbolic, poetic book, St. John is writing during a time of persecution when he has been exiled to the island of Patmos on account of his missionary work. In his Revelation he describes a cosmic conflict between the forces of Satan and God’s angels, a battle that mirrors the earthly trials suffered by Christians at the hands of the Romans.
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. (Revelation 1:9-11)
Unfortunately nothing remains today from these seven churches. Most were probably not churches at all, for the small Christian communities in these cities likely met in private homes, caves, or out of doors. But the Seven Churches of the Revelation still form the basis of an increasingly popular tour route in Turkey. All are located on or near the Aegean coast in western Turkey.
Ephesus was one of the largest cities of the ancient world and a center for worship of the goddess Artemis, as well as the site of one of the largest Christian communities of the first and second centuries AD. More on Ephesus
Smyrna is now known as Izmir. Along with Ephesus, Smyrna was an important coastal city during the first century AD. St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was martyred here around 156. Today Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey and its second largest port city after Istanbul.
Pergamum is the site of a magnificent acropolis situated atop a high hill overlooking the modern town of Bergama. More on Pergamum
Thyatira is now the city of Akhisar. During the first century it was famous for its textile industry and its production of indigo dye.
Sardis is located 60 miles inland from Izmir near the small village of Sart. Its ruins include the largest ancient synagogue outside of Israel.
Philadelphia was located on the imperial road that ran from Rome to Tarsus. Its ruins have largely been obscured by the modern city of Alaşehir.
Laodicea is located near Pamukkale/Hierapolis and includes a number of ruins dating back to the days of the ancient city.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.