IN THE DECADES following Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples continued his work of teaching and preaching. Saint Paul was the most important of these early preachers. He founded churches around the Mediterranean, and his letters to these and other churches make up many of the books of the New Testament. These letters have proved a source of inspiration to the countless others who have come after Paul and who have worked to spread Christianity around the world.
TONGUES LIKE FIRE
The Book of Acts describes how the disciples were gathered together for an ancient Jewish festival called Pentecost. There was a sound like a wind blowing through the room, and tongues like fire spread out and touched each disciple, filling them with the Holy Spirit. Pentecost took on a new significance to Christians after this day.
PASSIONATE SAINT PETER
Peter, as pictured on this 1430s Italian prayer book, was one of the leaders of the disciples. At Pentecost, he spoke passionately to the others, telling them that they had been visited by the Holy Spirit and saying that Jesus had risen from the dead and was the Messiah promised by God.
After Pentecost, the Christian community started to grow, and Peter began to allow non-Jews to join the church. The Roman authorities did not approve of Christianity, however, and many believers were persecuted. When the faith spread to Rome itself, many Christians kept their beliefs secret, even going down into the catacombs (underground tombs) to worship.
Saul was a Roman citizen and a Jew. He persecuted Christians and was present at the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (someone who dies for their faith). While on a journey to Damascus in Syria, Saul was temporarily blinded by a dazzling light, and he heard the voice of God asking him why he was attacking the church.
After his vision on the road to Damascus, Saul converted to Christianity and took the name Paul. He travelled around the Mediterranean, converting people to Christianity and setting up churches. As shown by this map, Paul’s journeys took him to Cyprus, Turkey, Macedonia, and Greece.
THE FIRST CHRISTIANS
For some time, Paul taught in the city of Antioch in Syria, where this church was built many years later. Paul sometimes referred to Jesus as Christ, meaning “the Anointed One”, so from this time on believers became known as Christians.
The ancient city of Ephesus (now in Turkey) was the site of one of the most important churches founded by Paul. His letter to the Ephesians encourages unity, and tells believers to follow the Christian path.
Justinian I, a Christian emperor, ruled the eastern, or Byzantine, empire from 527 to 565. He encouraged religious tolerance, tried to make peace between the rival Christian sects that existed at the time, and built churches in his capital city of Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey).
CONSTANTINE THE CONVERT
In 312, Constantine I became emperor of Rome. The following year, he became a Christian and passed the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed that Christians should be tolerated not persecuted. The faith could now spread with ease across the vast Roman empire.
SAINT PAUL’S LEGACY
Ever since Saint Paul went on his journeys, Christians have travelled around the world preaching the faith. Much of this missionary activity took place in the 19th century, with Europeans like Charles Creed preaching in countries such as New Zealand, as pictured here.