World Religions

Places of Worship – Saint Porphyrius Church of Gaza

Tariq Mahmood, Toronto, Canada

When humanity gazes upon ancient structures, it marvels at the remarkable genius of yesteryear, from the Pyramids of Giza to Stonehenge. And more often than not, these buildings hold religious significance to worshippers both past and present.

Among these ancient works of art stands the Saint Porphyrius Church of Gaza, one of the oldest churches in the world. [1]

The church is located in the region of Palestine, a land of rich history. The word Palestine itself is named after the Philistines, a small civilisation that resided in the region around 3,200 years ago. [2]

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The namesake of the church, Saint Porphyrius, is known to the Orthodox Christian community as the Bishop of Gaza. Born in Thessalonica, Greece in roughly 347 CE, Saint Porphyrius received a decent education, but was inclined towards monastic life. After studying in Egypt under many saints, he travelled to Jerusalem. In 395 CE, he was appointed the bishop of the city of Gaza, and worked towards the spread of Christianity amongst the otherwise native Pagans.[3]

In roughly 425 CE, Saint Porphyrius passed away, his tomb now marking the northeastern corner of the church site.

Adorned with its beautiful half-domed roof and marble columns, hundreds of Christian Gazans travel to the Al-Zaytoun neighbourhood to attend services at this historic site. However, when an Israeli missile struck the church on October 19th of this year, it remained a refuge no longer.[4]

Around 500 people had been sheltering within the church site since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7th. Families huddled together to sleep, sometimes in corridors or kitchens, seeking protection from missiles which had indiscriminately killed thousands of civilians, including over 6,000 children.

The missile struck a wall of the church, causing the ceiling to collapse onto dozens of people, killing 18 Palestinians. The Holy Qur’an proclaims in clear terms that all religious centres are designated safe zones and should not be attacked or torn down, including churches and synagogues.[5]

Throughout the world, some churches are beautiful because of their flawless architecture, while others have intricate paintings adorning their roofs.

But there are a rare few who echo an ancient message from the past. They are part of our history, our evolution; and so, they are a part of who we are. To damage or destroy such symbols means to forsake all that humankind has learned from its past.

For now, the Saint Porphyrius Church will slowly be rebuilt, an atrocity etched into the history of its walls, reminding us that havens can quickly turn into hell if enmity and callous disregard triumph over sympathy and compassion.


1. “30 Oldest Churches in the World (History and Photos),” World Famous Things, October 26, 2023, Accessed: November 1, 2023.

2. Walid Kalidi et al., “Palestine|History, People, & Religion,” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019. Accessed: November 1, 2023.

3. Nicholas Weber, The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911).

4. Ylenia Gostoli, Abdelhakim Abu Riash, “‘We Were Baptised Here and We Will Die Here’: Gaza’s Oldest Church Bombed,” Al Jazeera, October 20, 2023. Accessed: November 1, 2023.

5. The Holy Qur’an, 22:41.

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