By Aaron Earls
A series of caves in Syria potentially helped protect Christians during Roman persecution. And now it helped keep their artifacts and remains safe from ISIS.
ISIS forces occupied Manbij, a city in northern Syria, and began dumping trash over an old gate. Little did they know the gate stretched several feet into the ground into an ancient Christian site, according to a Fox News report.
Adbulwahab Sheko, head of the Exploration Committee at the Ruins Council in Manbij, told Fox News crosses were etched onto the walls of a system of tunnels that offered places of worship, a burial ground, and even escape routes.
“This place is so special,” he said. “Here is where I think the security guard would stand at the gate watching for any movement outside. He would warn the others to exit through the other passage if they needed to flee.”
The site was most likely a hidden refuge for Christians or a secret church dating back to the third or fourth century A.D.
This find indicates “there was a significant Christian population in the area which felt they needed to hide their activities,” John Wineland, professor of history and archaeology at Southeastern University, told Fox News.
Sheko was studying the area when ISIS invaded in 2014. He kept the place a secret, just as the early Christians did.
Fortunately, the terrorists never realized the significance of what lay beneath the area they used as a garbage dump.
Syrian locals have helped clean out the site and have also discovered a second underground location filled with Christian symbols. But there may not be many actual Christians left in Syria.
At the start of the Syrian civil war, Christians made up about 10 percent of the population, but they’ve been under severe persecution. “This had led to a significant decline of Christians in the region,” Wineland told Fox News. “Some have been killed, others have fled, and still others have been coerced into converting to Islam.”
Sheko said as a Muslim, he doesn’t want to be like those in ISIS. “We take care of these Christian ruins,” he said. “We respect them. We respect humanity.”
Archaeologists believe more early church and biblical ruins are likely to be discovered in the areas vacated by ISIS fighters.
When the terrorist group demolished the tomb of Jonah the prophet and dug tunnels all around the area, the fighters accidentally corroborated the Bible.
In those tunnels ISIS abandoned when they fled, archaeologists discovered a palace in the ancient city of Nineveh with several inscriptions that match the biblical records of Assyrian kings.
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AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.