Archaeologists in Jordon have claimed to have unearthed the world's oldest church dating back 2,000 years.
The underground church was discovered below the ancient Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab, northern Jordan near the Syrian border.
"We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD," Abdul Qader al-Husan, head of Jordan's Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, said.
"We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ," he was quoted as saying by the Jordan Times newspaper.
The early Christians, described in the mosaic inscription on St. Georgeous floor as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine", are said to have fled from Jerusalem during the persecution of Christians, to the northern part of Jordan, particularly to Rihab, the scholar said.
Saint Georgeous is believed to be the oldest proper church in the world, built in 230 AD. This status is only challenged by a church unearthed in Aqaba in 1998, also dating back to 3rd century.
Citing historical sources, Al-Husan said the 70 lived and practised their rituals in secrecy in this underground church.
"We believe that they did not leave the cave and lived until the Christian religion was embraced by Roman rulers," the scholar said.
We found pottery items that date back from the 3rd to 7th century, Al-Husan added.
According to the report, the cave also embraces the living place of the first Christians. "A wall with an entrance is the only partition separating the altar from the living area," he said, adding it is believed that Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary passed through this area.