Friday, November 11, 2011

Chapel Trip: Tarsus, Heaven, and Hell

We recently joined our Catholic parish for a day trip visiting local sites.  Our first stop was Tarsus, hometown of Saint Paul.  Though this was our fourth time visiting Tarsus, this visit was especially unforgettable.  We were given the priviledge of celebrating Mass in Tarsus inside of St. Paul's Church--a church originally built in the 1700s.  There is a tradition, however, that this church was built on the site of the second Christian Church (after the church in Antioch) founded by Saints Peter and Paul!


We were blessed to have two holy priests accompany us on our trip.  Father Bob is our pastor on base (on the left).  Father Francis (on the right) is a missionary priest that serves the local Catholic Turks in the area.  It's amazing to think of the possibility that both priests were celebrating Mass on the very site that Saints Peter and Paul celebrated Mass almost 2000 years ago!  As Father spoke the words of consecration, I got goosebumps as I imagined Saint Peter speaking those very same words on this sacred ground. 

A painting of Saint Paul in his church in Tarsus

The modern city of Tarsus does not have any Christian residents with the exception of two little Italian nuns sent here to maintain St. Paul's Church and arrange for groups to celebrate Mass here. They live in a small, discreet convent across the street from the church. The joyful little sisters invited us to join them for coffee and cookies after Mass.  I can't imagine the challenges these sisters face being the only two Christians in Tarsus.  It was apparent that these crosses did not take away their joy.  They radiated the joy and peace of Christ as they welcomed us into their humble little home.  Though they spoke very little English, they didn't heistate to offer our little "Pietro" another (and another and another...) cookie. 

The Italian nuns put us in their convent's Guest Book!

Our group in the Church of Saint Paul.  The Italian nuns are in the navy blue on the right. 

I have been blessed with wonderful friends in our parish! 
Here are some of us at the Well of Saint Paul. 
It is believed that Saint Paul's home was near this spot and he used this well!

The Beaudoin's at Cleopatra's Gate

Enjoying a tasty Turkish lunch in Mersin!
Next, we visited the Corycian Caves, better known as "Heaven and Hell".  The two caves were formed by underground chemical erosion.  There are many legends associated with these caves. 

The first cave we saw was "Hell".  Fortunately, we couldn't climb down into this cave!  We just peered down into this gloomy deep pit.  It's believed that this was the location that Zeus imprisoned Typhon (from where "Typhoon" storms get their name), a many-headed monster serpent that was the father of the guard dog of Hell (Cerberus). 

Our next stop was "Heaven".  This cave is much larger than "Hell".  We climbed down 452 stairs before we reached the ruins of a Byzantine Chapel dedicated to Mary, built in the 400s AD. 

Inside of the chapel one could see the faint remains of frescos on the ceilings!

Deeper past the chapel is a cave-gorge with an underground river, thought by some to be the River Styx. 

We climbed down, down, down the wet, slippery rocks and clay until we reached the end of the path where the little river quietly trickled. 

It was a fun and busy day!  We went to Heaven, Hell, and back!


  1. Love this post -- I love that church. I may link to this page from my blog if it's okay to show people the history of this part of the world. So amazing. I also would like to print it out for Kelsey -- she'd love the life of those two little nuns. Do they speak English?

  2. Thanks, Wendi! :) Absolutely- you can share it on your blog and with Kelsey! Can I include a note in your next letter to Kelsey? I'd love to say hi to my Sister friends! :) The nuns in Tarsus were adorable- just spoke a teeny bit of English.