The possible tomb of Saint Philip. Credit: Courtesy of Institute of Archaeological Heritage The tomb of Saint Philip, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, might have been unearthed in southwestern Turkey, according to Italian archaeologists who have been excavating the area for decades.
Francesco D'Andria, director of the Institute of Archaeological Heritage, Monuments and Sites at Italy's National Research Council in Lecce, found the burial after intensive geophysical research at the World Heritage Site of Hierapolis, now called Pamukkale.
"It was believed that the tomb of St. Philip was on Martyrs' Hill, but we found no traces of him in that area," D'Andria said. "The tomb emerged as we excavated a fifth century church 40 meters away from the church dedicated to the saint on Martyrs' Hill."
According to D'Andria, the grave was moved from its previous location in the St. Philip Church to the new church in the Bizantine era.
The alleged apostle's tomb, which has not yet been opened, is at the center of some controversy. The finding is mainly based on an apocryphal fourth-century text called the Acts of Philip, which is not recognized by the Catholic Church.
Not much is known about Philip. Born in Bethsaida on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, he is often confused with Philip the Evangelist.
Apart from his inclusion in the list of the twelve apostles, much information comes from the Gospel of John, where he is described as one of the first followers of Jesus.
The gospel mentions him in connection with the miraculous feeding of the five thousand and with Jesus' discourse at the Last Supper.
Outside of the New Testament, it's the apocryphal Acts of Philip which traces the history of the saint.
According to the text, after Jesus' resurrection, Philip preached in Greece, Syria and Asia Minor. He is said to have met a martyr's death in Hierapolis, in what is now Turkey, around 80 A.D.
Following a conflict with the snake worshippers of Hierapolis, a city famous at that time for its wealth and idolatry, he was allegedly executed by the Romans - hung on a tree upside down with irons in his heels and ankles.
"In answer to Philip's cry while hanging upside-down on the tree, an abyss suddenly opened and swallowed the proconsul and the viper temple where he was sitting, as well as the viper priests and 7,000 men, plus women and children," reads the apocryphal account.