Nicea, or Nicaea, is extremely important in the history of Christendom as the site of the first and seventh ecumenical (i.e. world-wide) councils. The First Council of Nicea convened in A.D. 325 to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ in reaction to Arianism. A product of this council is the Nicene Creed, named after the council. The Nicene Creed is one of the three major creeds of the Church. (The Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed being the other two.) The Nicene Creed is an expansion of the Apostles’ Creed and incorporates specific language concerning the nature of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and their relation to God the Father. The less significant Second Council of Nicea (the seventh ecumenical council) in A.D. 787 restored the use and veneration of icons (i.e. holy images) which had been banned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V thirty-three years earlier.

ChurchOfNicea1Nicea was located in northwestern Anatolia, which today is part of Turkey. Nicea lies within the modern city of Iznik on the eastern shore of Iznik Lake, also known as Lake Ascanius. On the shore of this lake was a church, and it was in this church that the First Nicene council met. In A.D. 740 an earthquake struck the area, and the church was submerged beneath the lake. The exact site of the church was forgotten over time, and has been unknown for centuries. However, that has now changed.

Dr. Mustafa Şahin, a Turkish archaeologist, has searched many years for the ancient church of Nicea. He explored the area around Lake Iznik (known as Lake Ascanius in Roman times) without success. In 2013, the government began taking aerial photographs of the lake but the government did not share the photographs with archaeologists. Recently the government renewed the aerial photography and a member of the team thought of contacting Dr. Şahin. The photographs showed an ancient structure about 160 feet from shore and under about ten feet of water. Dr. Şahin immediately recognized the remains as those of a church and he was sure that his search was over. “When I first saw the images of the lake, I was quite surprised to see a church structure that clearly. I’d been doing field surveys in Iznik since 2006 and hadn’t yet discovered a magnificent structure like that,” Dr. Şahin told reporters.

ChurchOfNicea2Divers dispatched to explore the submerged building discovered several human graves and some Roman coins.

The site may become Turkey’s first underwater museum; Dr. Şahin hopes that wll be the case. Museum plans include a sixty-six foot tower which would allow the ruins to be seen from the shore, a walkway over the lake itself, and a submerged glass room at the nave allowing visitors to pray in the area enclosed by the original church. The museum would allow visitors to dive and get a closeup view of the structure. Construction may begin soon and the museum could open in 2019.

For more information on the find, as well as information on the controversy leading to the First Council of Nicene, read this article in the Daily Beast.