Archaeologists have found a secret passageway where early Christians used when hiding to escape Roman persecution.
Islamic State militants once occupied Manbij, Syria, where this hiding place was discovered, never realizing they had a relic of ancient Christendom in their possession.
“I was so excited, I can’t describe it. I was holding everything in my hands,” Abdulwahab Sheko, head of the Exploration Committee at the Ruins Council in Manbij, told Fox News.
Sheko believes the secret gathering places date back to the 3rd and 4th century AD.
“This place is so special. Here is where I think the security guard would stand at the gate watching for any movement outside,” Sheko explained while giving the Fox News reporter a tour of the cave. “He could warn the others to exit through the other passage if they needed to flee.”
The space has a labyrinth of escape tunnels and secret doors. Crosses and writings are etched into the walls. Sheko even found what he believes is an altar.
The passage ruins also contain a cemetery and human bones.
The archaeological team found a second site deep within the cave, leading to several rooms with Christian symbols everywhere.
“They indicate that there was a significant Christian population in the area which felt they needed to hide their activities,” John Wineland, professor of history and archaeology at Southeastern University, told Fox News. “This is probably an indication of the persecution by the Roman government, which was common in the period.”
Wineland says the severe persecution Christians faced thousands of years ago under Roman rule mirror the persecution they face today by radical Islamic terrorists.
“This has led to a significant decline of Christians in the region. Some have been killed, others have fled and still others have been coerced into converting to Islam,” he said.