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Archaeologists Uncover 'Oldest Church' in Holy Land

The archaeological world is buzzing with news of a major find in Israel. The discovery is being hailed by Christian leaders, who see it as an affirmation of the faith.

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of a third- or fourth-century church in northern Israel, which they believe could be the oldest ever found in the Holy Land. The church contains a well-preserved mosaic, with references to Jesus Christ and images of fish - an ancient Christian symbol.

"This find is once in a lifetime," Chief archaeologist Yotam Tefer told VOA. "It is very, very exciting."

The church was found during renovations at a prison in Megiddo - what the New Testament calls Armageddon - the site of the final apocalyptic war marking the end of the world.

"This is the place, the site of the last battle, Armageddon," said Mr. Tefer. "Of course, this is the place. So, this is why it's so important to the Christian world."

Word of the find has electrified the Christian world.

"Surely it is a great discovery, which will be a confirmation for all the Christians all over the world," said Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's ambassador to Israel, told Israeli television.

"Of course, all the Christians are convinced of the historicity of Jesus Christ," he added. "But it is extremely important to have archaeological proof of a church dedicated to Him."

It is also good news for the Israeli tourism industry, which has been battered by five years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

"This find made my heart palpitate!" said Israel's tourism minister, Avraham Hirschzon. "It could bring a very large flow of tourists to the country," he said. Israel is considering moving the prison where the church was found, so it can open the site to the public.

That would enable Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Galilee, to include a stop at Armageddon.