The Underwater Basilica of Nicaea: Archaeology in the Birthplace of Christian Theology, By Mark R. Fairchild

The Underwater Basilica of Nicaea

Archaeology in the Birthplace of Christian Theology

by Mark R. Fairchild

The Underwater Basilica of Nicaea
  • Length: 192 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: November 05, 2024
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: A1067
  • ISBN: 9781514010679

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A Firsthand Look at a Groundbreaking Archaeological Discovery

In 2014, aerial photography revealed a submerged structure beneath the waters of Lake Iznik, near the ancient city of Nicaea. The structure appeared to be in the shape of an ancient basilica church, with a nave, aisles, and an apse pointing to the east. The discovery was named one of the top ten archaeological discoveries in 2014 by the Archaeological Institute of America. Earlier excavations in ancient Nicaea have revealed fourteen Byzantine churches in the city, but none of them can be dated as early as the fourth century.

Biblical scholar and archaeologist Mark Fairchild’s work on the archaeological excavations in Turkey reveals what he argues is the likely location of the First Council of Nicaea. The Underwater Basilica of Nicaea includes:

  • Beautiful images from the excavation
  • Helpful maps from the dig site
  • Fascinating insights for a location that could be the birthplace of Christian theology.

"Owing to his expertise after decades of research in Turkey during the Greco-Roman and Christian eras, Mark Fairchild was invited to collaborate with the Turkish marine archaeologist Mustafa Şahin, who in 2015 discovered and has been excavating the underwater church found in a lake by ancient Nicaea. This discovery is thought to be the very church where the Council of Nicaea was held in AD 325, and Fairchild artfully guides the reader through the early written sources that inform about the church and provides a fascinating treatment of the architectural remains. This book is a major contribution that sheds light on the early chapters of church history, and is written in an engaging style."

James K. Hoffmeier, professor emeritus of Near Eastern archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"This is an excellent study of the recent archaeological discovery of an underwater basilica at the site of Nicaea in modern northwestern Turkey. The real strength of the book is integrative: Dr. Fairchild adeptly weaves history and archaeology to help the reader understand the importance of Nicaea in the early history of the church. Dr. Fairchild's work is masterful in demonstrating how archaeology sheds light on this most critical site in antiquity. This book is a good read for anyone interested in Nicaea as an early setting for the development of Christian theology."

John D. Currid, professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Dallas

"Mark Fairchild invites readers not only to explore an important archaeological site but also to enter into the circumstances and challenges Christians faced in Nicaea and its environs for the centuries leading up to one of the most significant landmark moments in the articulation of Christian theology. Readers of this book will come away with a deep appreciation for the legacy of the Christians of the first three centuries after Christ's death and resurrection, as well as a thorough immersion into the challenges of archaeological work and the interpretation of its findings."

David A. deSilva, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary and author of Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity

"This book is a wonderfully readable overview of the archaeology and history of the underwater basilica of Nicaea. It is simultaneously an accessible introduction to the history and archaeology of early Christianity in the years following the Constantinian shift. Good for students and scholars alike, The Underwater Basilica of Nicaea draws readers into the world of Christianity in the fourth century by addressing the major scholarly questions about the basilica, including whether it might have been the original meeting place of the First Ecumenical Council. Few books on the archaeology of early Christianity are this readable and accessible!"

Jordan J. Ryan, associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and author of From the Passion to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

"Building on the historical and archaeological records, Fairchild sets out an insightful case for the site of Nicaea's Council. Readers are drawn to sift the tantalizing evidence for themselves as Fairchild gathers it from ruins below Lake Iznik and the remnants of the Church's earliest records. Exploring the re-use of the site as a converted Roman temple, Fairchild explores its Christian conversion into a martyrion and later church. He gives readers a detailed look at the development of this early Christian basilica and its possible role as the site where the young faith hammered out her orthodox creed and convictions. A thought-provoking read for scholars and students alike."

David Maltsberger, retired professor of biblical studies at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas

"This volume represents the culmination of Mark Fairchild's two decades of field work in Turkey exploring sites of value for Christian origins. Here he draws on collaboration experience with archaeologist Mustafa Şahin, adding a chorus of voices from primary and secondary sources to comment authoritatively on the recently discovered underwater basilica of Nicaea. Calculating from available data, the author determines that the basilica likely was constructed as a martyrion in the fourth century following the liberating Edict of Milan and entertains the question of the significance of the site for the first and most famous ecumenical council that took place in this corner of the ancient Mediterranean world."

John T. Noble, assistant director of the Franciscan Leadership Institute and chair of the theology department at Marian University

"As the 1700-year anniversary of the Nicene Creed approaches, Mark Fairchild delivers a volume that opens up the material culture of fourth-century Nicaea. In this work with the feel of 'notes from the field,' Fairchild guides the reader to the heart of Nicaea (Iznik) itself and to an enigmatic underwater structure on Lake Iznik whose origin and function remain unanswered. Fairchild's expertise and close investigation of the submerged Nicene basilica attempts some answers to its presenting questions: what is the origin of this structure? Was it dedicated to a pagan god or a Christian martyr? And—most pressing for Nicene believers—did this basilica host the gathering of bishops in AD 325? Drawing on his decades of archaeological research in the 'cradle of Christianity' (eastern Turkey) and focusing on worship structures and inscriptions, Fairchild assembles his argument and, in the process, delivers the book's true value for students of Nicaea in AD 325: building out in the reader's imagination Nicaea's geographical milieu, giving it color and dimensionality beyond doctrinal and ecclesiological texts."

Stefana Dan Laing, associate professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University

Read an Excerpt


1. The History of Nicaea and Christian Beginnings in Bithynia
2. The Earliest Christian Places of Worship
3. The Discovery, Excavation, and Research of the Underwater Basilica
4. Was the Underwater Basilica Originally a Converted Pagan Temple?
5. Was the Underwater Basilica a Martyrion?
6. Was the Underwater Basilica the Place of the First Council of Nicaea?
7. The Legacy of Nicaea
8. Conclusion

Image Credits
General Index


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Mark Fairchild

Mark R. Fairchild (PhD, Drew University) was professor of Bible and Religion at Huntington University. He spent over twenty years doing research in ancient Anatolia and worked with Mustafa Sahin to direct the excavation of the submerged Basilica. He is author of Christian Origins in Ephesus and Asia Minor (Hendrickson).