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The earthly repose of the Apostle Philip

· The head of excavation describes the discovery of the tomb at Hierapolis ·

“Even in Asia, great stars repose, who will rise again on the last day of the parousia of the Lord…(among these) Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell to his sleep in Hierapolis…and Giovanni…who fell to his sleep in Ephesus.” So wrote the Bishop of Ephesus, Polycratus, around the year 190, in a letter sent to the Bishop of Rome, Vittore. A few years later, there is the Dialogu e, a text in which Roman presbyter, Gaius, discusses the theses of Proclus, representative of a Montanist heresy rooted in Frigia. While Gaius indicates the “trophies” of Peter and Paul, founders of the church of Rome, Proclus refers to the graves of Philip and his prophet daughters, in Hierapolis. Numerous other sources connect the city of Frigia to the apostle of Bethsaida in Galilee and anthropological research has discovered a monumental complex built in Philip’s memory.

In 1957, at the  moment of the founding of the Italian Archeological Mission in Hierapolis, Paolo Verzone, professor of engineering at the Polytechnic in Turin, brought to light an extraordinary church of octagonal shape, on the eastern hill, outside of the city walls. It was a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture of the 5th century, fruit of the local building traditions in its use of travertine and the refined knowledge of architects from the imperial court of Constantinople. The complex also makes reference to the symbolism of numbers: the eight sides of the central body, the square which surrounds the octagon, triangular courtyards, the chapels of seven sides, make a subtle theological reference. Verzone had identified the octagon as the Martyrion of St. Philip, but he was never able to find the tomb.

In 2001, work began again on the building, and new investigations were also undertaken, with the help of geo-physics. The tomb was searched for under the area of the altar, but without success. At the same time, Giuseppe Scardozzi, a researcher of the National Council of Research (CNR) of the Institute for Archeological and Monument Heritage (IBAM) in Lecce, identified, using satellite images and topographical information, a large processional street which brought pilgrims through the city and to the hill of the Saint.

This year, the Italian Archeological Mission in Hierapolis, with the concession of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, began digging on a plateau, a few meters from the Octagon building. Here, out of an immense mound of rocks and marble, emerged the upper part of a frontespiece in travertine of an enshrined tomb from the Roman age. It was a normal discovery given that the area is a vast necropolis of that period, but around this tomb there were also numerous traces of walls and fragments of Byzantine marble. So the excavations, vigorously coordinated by Piera Caggia (IBAM-CNR), brought to light a large basilica with three naves: there are remains of marble columns with refined decorations from the 5th century, crosses, vegetable branches, decorations with stylized palms inside the niches. The pavement of the central nave is made with marble inlays of geometric shapes and a variety of colors. On the frame of a lintel in marble, the monogram of Theodosius is legible, probably a reference to the Byzantine Emperor.

Archeological research now allows us to combine years of investigation into a coherent mosaic. The tomb of St. Philip is the fulcrum around which the buildings of this extraordinary sanctuary were built, in the 5th and 6th centuries, in the river valley of Lykos in Turkey, in front of Colossus, celebrated for St. Paul letter and Laodicea, one of the seven churches of the Apocalypse.

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