Hagia Thekla
Community ID
Alternate Names
İçel province
Modern Location
Near southern edge of Silifke off of the ancient pilgrims' road, on the hill now called Meryemlik
Foundation Information

It is unknown when the site was founded. Our earliest literary record of a visitor to the sight is NULL, who visited in 384. She notes the existence of a church in which Thecla's shrine was located and numerous monastic cells for men and women. The exact location of Thecla's original shrine has not been identified.

First Members

The pilgrimage site is dedicated to NULL. In "The Acts of Paul and Thecla", Thecla died in Selucia (modern Silifke). According to the "Life and Miracles of Thecla" (444/5 c.), Thecla did not die but instead descended into the ground of Selucia.

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

In the early 400s, Hagia Thekla acted as a recruiting ground for bishops. The monastic priests who served as assessors at the shrine were often selected to be bishops, for example Dexianos, Bishop of Seleucia (430) and Menodoros, Bishop of Aigai. Who selected and ordained these bishops? The answer to this question has not been explored in research, but may tell us more about its theological or ecclesiastical allegiances prior to the Council of Chalcedon (451).


According to The ecclesiastical history of Evagrius Scholasticus 3.8, the Emperor Zeno (c. 425 – 9 April 491) had a vision of Thecla, who encouraged him to march on his usurper Basiliscus. In thanksgiving for his victory over Basiliscus, Zeno dedicated a sanctuary to Thecla at her hilltop shrine in Seleucia.

Religious Activities

Thecla's shrine was a major pilgrimage site in late antiquity, and was visited by Gregory of Nazianzus in 374 upon the death of his mother, NULL, NULL, and NULL.

Architecture & Archaeology

Sometime in the second half of the fifth century, after Egeria's visit and after the composition of the "Life and Miracles of Saint Thecla", Thecla's shrine was relocated to a nearby cave at the southern edge of the pilgrimage site. An unknown benefactor built a small, three-aisled basilica into the limestone grotto, known today as Thecla's "Cave Church".

Zeno (see patrons/ benefactors above) built a large, three-naved basilica over the cave church in 476.

In the late fifth and early sixth century, unknown benefactors constructed two more churches at the site, as well as a public bath and a number of cisterns.

State Of Medieval Structure

Today when visitors make their way to Ayatekla on the Meryemlik hill outside of Silifke, they can see the remains of a ruined apse and the cave church of Thecla. Both structures have undergone excavation. Remains of other structures are scattered around the hillside, although not all these have been excavated.

Published Primary Sources

Egeria’s travels, 22.1- 23.6. For the critical Greek edition of this text, see Journal de voyage : itinéraire & Lettre sur la Bse Egérie. Numerous editions exist of The acts of Thecla; the critical text and translation is found in Acta Pauli et Theclae. The main edition of "The Life and Miracles of Thecla" is Vie et miracles de sainte Thècle: texte grec, traduction et commentaire.

Secondary Sources

The cult of Saint Thecla : a tradition of women’s piety in late antiquity, 36-80, provides a helpful English introduction to the site. The author explores the archaeological remains in conjunction with the textual remains. For details on how to visit the site today, see Turkey, 491. For archaeological reports on the site, see Meriamlik und Korykos; zwei christliche ruinenstätten des rauhen Kilikiens; Bericht iiber eine Reise durch Kilikien; The early Byzantine churches of Cilicia and Isauria, 209-234, fig. 42-45, pl. 98-99; Kommagene, Kilikien, Isaurien; Kilikien und Isaurien, 441-443, pt. 383-390.

Miscellaneous Information

We lack concrete details of the day to day life of this community. Egeria (384) describes a configuration of individual cells situated around the shrine. Ascetic men and women likely lived alone in these cells, coming together for prayer and liturgical celebration. The male ascetics shared a close relationship with the clergy associated with the shrine. Egeria and the author of the "Life and Miracles of Thecla" also emphasize the leadership and presence of women at the shrine. Egeria mentions a woman named Marthana who hosted female visitors to Hagia Thecla and directed some cells of hermits. The "Life and Miracles of Thecla" describes the original shrine/ church (before its relocation in the second half of the fifth century) as including living quarters for a community of virgins (10.5-6). Davis suggests that these virgins may have acted as guardians of the shrine or provided accommodations for female pilgrims (59).

In fourth-century Asia Minor, it was common for ascetic men and women to live together in a semi-communal fashion or in close proximity to one-another. For another example of a female leader of a community that included both men and women, see NULL.

During the fifth and sixth centuries in Turkey and Syria, independent wandering became more regulated and many female and male communities transitioned from a semi-hermetical state to coenobitic monasticism. It is unclear if or at what exact time this may have occurred at Hagia Thekla.

Dina Boero
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