Where is the oldest church in the Middle East?
Built of clay bricks by the Christian rebels of the Nestorian sect against the Byzantine Church as a place to freely practice their rituals and worship under the Lakhmid Dynasty (268-633 AD), the al-Uqaiser Church is considered one of the important monuments in the Karbala desert, and one of the oldest churches in the Middle East, according to historical sources.
Al-Uqaiser Church, also known as al-Qaseer, is a diminutive of the word ‘Qasr’ meaning palace, as the locals called it, believing that it is not different from the rest of the other palaces, as this region was famous in its time for the abundance of palaces and famous buildings such as al-Ukhaidir Palace, al-Bardawil Palace and Shamoun Palace.
The location of its construction facing Jerusalem indicates that it was a place of worship before Islam, as it was the center for the People of the Book at that time, and it is considered the first and oldest historical legacy in this region, with traces of Aramaic writings still visible on its walls.
Al-Uqaiser Church is located 70 kilometers from the center of Karbala in the desert of Ayn al-Tamur district, and was designed in a rectangular shape with a length of 16 meters and a width of approximately 4 meters, containing a large room that was topped by a dome and a small entrance leading to a number of chambers for the priests. Twenty meters away there are corridors including the graves of the church’s inhabitants and worshipers.
According to historians, the hills in the vicinity of the church indicate that there is a possibility that an entire city was buried under the sand.