One of the Seven Churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation was the city of Philadelphia, now known as Alaşehir. Unfortunately, there are no remains of a Christian temple from the period of this apostle's activity in the city, simply because the first Christians met in private houses or meeting rooms. The "Church" that the Book of Revelation mentions was the community of Christians in a particular area. However, in Alaşehir you can see the ruins of a church from the Byzantine period, and more precisely from the 6th century CE.
Saint John had the following message for the Christian community in Philadelphia: To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the One who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door, which no one can shut. For you have only a little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My name. Look at those who belong to the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews but are liars instead. I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I love you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will never again leave it. Upon him I will write the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from My God), and My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Source: THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Even though several ancient cities bore the name of Philadelphia, it is generally acknowledged that the one listed by St John in the Book of Revelation as the sixth church of the seven is located in the modern-day Alaşehir. Revelation 3:7–13 records St John's letter specifically addressed to the Philadelphian church.
It is possible that the city's history of earthquakes is behind the reference to making her church a pillar in the temple. Besides the fact that Smyrna was warned of a temptation lasting ten days, and Philadelphia was promised a total exemption from temptation, Philadelphia shares with Smyrna the distinction of receiving nothing but praise from Christ.
The meaning of these words can be interpreted in favour of the Christian community of Philadelphia, which, although small, maintains perseverance and brotherly love. Among the obstacles that the members of this community had to face, the Book of Revelation mentions local Jews who compete with Christians. The message contained in the Book of Revelation brings the promise of protection to the Philadelphia community from the coming trial and the conversion of its opponents.
The above-mentioned church from the 6th century CE is located near the centre of Alaşehir, in the Beşeylül district. Only three massive pillars, made of stone blocks, have survived from the once mighty temple. Visible fragments of the church's arched vault were made of bricks. There are poorly preserved fresco fragments on these arches.
The area around the ruins of the Basilica of St John was developed as an open-air museum. It collects ancient sarcophagi, inscriptions and fragments of columns, as well as tombstones from the Ottoman period found in Alaşehir.
Behind the church pillars there is an area explored by archaeologists. Deep excavations are visible here, which revealed fragments of the walls of a building. However, there is no information whether they belonged to a church from the 6th century CE or to an earlier temple or even other structure.
The entry to the area of the Basilica of St John in Philadelphia is free of charge and the site is open every day. The church ruins are located on İsmet Paşa Street, opposite the Yıldırım Beyazıt Mosque. Access to this place may be difficult because many streets in the Beşeylül district are narrow and/or one-way. Few tourists come here, but there are pilgrims from all over the world who want to see the only remains of the Christian period in biblical Philadelphia.
Other archaeological remains in Alaşehir include:
- Ancient theatre
- Ancient stadium
- Ancient temple
- Necropolis and hypogea
- Byzantine city walls