Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Saint Thecla (Silifke, Turkey)

On Good Friday, we visited the grotto of Saint Thecla in the town of Silifke. 
After doing some pre-trip research, here's what we found:

Saint Thecla was born in Iconium (present day Konya, Turkey) in a pagan noble family around 30 AD.  After hearing Saint Paul preach, she was inspired to devote her life to spreading the Gospel with him.  The rest of the information about her life has been written in The Acts of Paul and Thecla composed in the 2nd century.
It is said that after Thecla converted to Christianity and vowed a life of virginity to follow Christ, her mother and fiance reported her to the governor.  The governor ordered that she be burned at the stake, but as she approached the roaring flames a strong wind and sudden rainstorm exstingushed the fire.  Later, while in Antioch in Pisidia, Thecla was thrown to the lions as punishment for being a Christian.  The lions approached Thecla and started licking her feet as she peacefully trusted in the Lord.  Many were converted after seeing these miracles and Thecla was set free.  Saint Paul sent her to preach the Gospel throughout present day Turkey.  She spent the last years of her life in Silifke, living in a cave and caring for the poor.  She died and was buried in the cave in Silifke and a church was built over her tomb, which has been a destination of pilgrims for centuries. 

Saint Thecla is especially popular in the Eastern Church, where she is called  "Apostle and protomartyr among women" and even "equal to the apostles".

We made this pilgrimage, about 2 hours west, to see the resting place of this great woman of faith.  The remains of her basilica sit upon a mountain overlooking the town.  Upon arriving, we paid a man who worked for the Turkish tourism department.  He grabbed a set of keys and lead us to the holy site.  Our tour guide knew about as much English as we knew Turkish, so he kept it short and sweet.  "Basilica" he said, as he pointed to the ruins of what must have been a breathtaking church.

The ruins of Saint Thecla Basilica

Then, he led us to an iron gate leading into the entrance of a cave.  He unlocked the gate and led us down the stone steps into the cave.  This was the cave that Saint Thecla, friend of Saint Paul and champion of the Faith, prayed, cooked, slept and meditated.  My heart felt suddenly drawn to her as I felt the peacefulness of the dimly lit little cave and imagined her there. 

Our guide led us further and motioned as he said "tomb".  We silently prayed for Saint Thecla's intercession as we stood at her resting place. 

We made two more Silifke stops before heading back home.  Silifke became part of the Roman Empire in 72 BC and became famous for its Temple to Apollo.  The ruins of this temple are now in the middle of the city, ignored by passersby as they go about their daily routines.  That's the amazing thing about Turkey, there is so much history here, it seems commonplace to see ancient columns, archways, and ruins scattered throughout cities and countrysides.  Dan hopped out of the car and took a few photos (it was getting chilly and windy, so Peter and I opted to stay in the warm car).  Soon we were on our way to the last stop of the day, the Goksu River. 

Frederick Barbarossa drowned to death in the Goksu River, bringing an end to the 3rd Crusade.  Dan took pictures next to the monument.  Peter and I picked up rocks and enjoyed the scenic view.  Peter took a great nap on our drive home while Dan and I enjoyed the view of the Mediterranean Sea and planned our next adventure.  

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