Archaeologist uncovers unluckiest church in the world

December 13, 2002

University of Warwick archaeologist Dr Stephen Hill has uncovered what is probably the unluckiest church in the world. It was founded on what is now a cliff top because unfortunately that is where its patron saint was martyred. It was wrecked by two earthquakes, a flood, and a landslide - all of which happened while it was still being built. It became an opium den and after its eventual abandonment ended up being washed away by the sea....

The site was discovered when Turkey's Sinop museum found pieces of late Roman mosaic washing up at Çiftik, on Turkey's Black Sea coast, in the mid 1990's. The museum asked University of Warwick archaeologist Dr Stephen Hill to investigate. He found, not just a mosaic, but the site of a large, previously unknown, 4th-century church. Analysis of his work on the site has now made it clear that the church is probably the unluckiest in the world.

Not a fortunate start - The church's founder was not a lucky man. Dr Hill has found that the evidence points to the church being a pilgrimage church dedicated to St Phocas - a patron saint of gardeners and sailors. He was a Christian hermit who dug his own grave the day before he was martyred by Roman soldiers. The church appears to have been built on what is now a precarious cliff top site as that spot was believed to be the site of St Phocas's original grave. At the time it was built the site was in a valley bottom subject to winter melt deposits and landslides where it was perhaps unwise to build anything!

Unlucky Again - Construction of the church in the 4th century AD when the Roman empire was better disposed towards Christianity. However, after much of the main structure of the church was built, an earthquake struck. Much of the west and south side of the church was badly damaged. The builders abandoned a whole section of their new building blocked by earthquake rubble. They sealed up the doors and windows to that section of the church and carried on building but they also had to reinforce the remaining walls and raise the entrance to the church as the earthquake had left the church floor below its surroundings.

It never rains but it pours - The builders managed to complete a beautiful large floor mosaic - the thing that first alerted archaeologists to the site. However not long after it was finished the site was flooded and the mosaic was abandoned - buried under a layer of sediment.

Oh no not again - A second earthquake hit the site just as the builders were fitting out the church with decorative sculpture and other decorations. The University of Warwick archaeologists found several pieces of unfinished sculptures and sculpture settings on the site. Most of the site was abandoned and what little was still usable was turned into a pottery.

Not a smart move - It was not a smart move manufacturing breakable pottery on the site as the archaeology shows that a landslide hit soon after and the site was abandoned except for...

Final opium den ignominy - The porch of the church survived for some time afterwards, and poppy seeds and part of a pipe found by the Warwick team suggest that the porch may have become a spot for opium smokers in the middle ages.

The site has not got any luckier - Dr Hill and his team have managed to put in coastal defences to stop any more of the mosaic on the site falling into the sea, but recently large ground cracks have appeared within the site suggesting that the area is still unstable....the church may not survive to see many more Friday the thirteenths....
Notes for Editors

A picture of remains of church can be found at

More on St Phoacas can be found at these web sites:

The University of Warwick were funded by The British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara

University of Warwick

Related Earthquake Articles from Brightsurf:

Healthcare's earthquake: Lessons from COVID-19
Leaders and clinician researchers from Beth Israel Lahey Health propose using complexity science to identify strategies that healthcare organizations can use to respond better to the ongoing pandemic and to anticipate future challenges to healthcare delivery.

Earthquake lightning: Mysterious luminescence phenomena
Photoemission induced by rock fracturing can occur as a result of landslides associated with earthquakes.

How earthquake swarms arise
A new fault simulator maps out how interactions between pressure, friction and fluids rising through a fault zone can lead to slow-motion quakes and seismic swarms.

Typhoon changed earthquake patterns
Intensive erosion can temporarily change the earthquake activity (seismicity) of a region significantly.

Cause of abnormal groundwater rise after large earthquake
Abnormal rises in groundwater levels after large earthquakes has been observed all over the world, but the cause has remained unknown due to a lack of comparative data before & after earthquakes.

New clues to deep earthquake mystery
A new understanding of our planet's deepest earthquakes could help unravel one of the most mysterious geophysical processes on Earth.

Fracking and earthquake risk
Earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing can damage property and endanger lives.

Earthquake symmetry
A recent study investigated around 100,000 localized seismic events to search for patterns in the data.

Crowdsourcing speeds up earthquake monitoring
Data produced by Internet users can help to speed up the detection of earthquakes.

Geophysics: A surprising, cascading earthquake
The Kaikoura earthquake in New Zealand in 2016 caused widespread damage.

Read More: Earthquake News and Earthquake Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to