Christian Churches & WW Cemeteries  In Libya


The Church of Cyrene

It is not only that the beginning of the Church in Libya goes back to the origin of Christianity herself, but also the Christian thought itself was nurtured in North Africa; where the Bible says Moses was born and grew up, and where the Libyan Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus Christ carry the cross [Mark 15: 21-24]. When Christianity was fighting for its life in North Africa and the Middle East, Rome and Greece were yet to hear of Jesus Christ.

When the early Christian movement was persecuted and plighted with heresy, Gnosticism and controversy in Egypt (and later in Jerusalem), the Libyans and the Cyprians were among the first of men to carry the news of new-born Jesus to the Greeks and to the surrounding Mediterranean islands; where Christianity was nurtured to grow into a major religion; which then the Romans took, protected, and further spread around the ancient world -- a journey that took nearly 400 years to complete.

Among the first to leave Libya for Egypt and start a number of Christian communities was St. Mark (1st century AD), who was a Libyan Berber from Cyrene. Saint Mark is known for being the author of the first Christian Bible – the author of the "Gospel of Mark".

Having written the Gospel, St. Mark left Libya for Egypt where he founded the Church of Alexandria and began spreading the new religion – the religion which Berber Arius Ammonius (AD 250/256–336 AD) deplored for being freely mixed with pagan philosophy. Arius Ammonius was the Berber leader of the movement of reform and modernization in Christianity in North Africa, who emphasized the Father's divinity over the Son.

Also of historical importance is the fact that among the first to document the Christian philosophy and produce tumultuous volumes of Christian lore was the Berber St. Augustine of Algeria; whom together with Saint Mark are widely regarded among the most prominent figures of  early Christianity.

"Gabriel Camps noted that ". . . Three giants dominate the Christian thought of Roman Africa: Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine. These three Africans who . . . contributed to the establishment of the Christian dogma, are regarded, with due merit, as "Fathers of the Church "(Camps, p.251). It was Tertullian (155-225) who made Christianity a tool in his resistance against the Roman occupation because . . . he had kept "all the passions, all the entransigence, all the indiscipline of a Berber." . . . His principal work was the Apologetic (Apologeticum). As for Cyprian, he conducted research and underwent martyrdom . . . As for Saint-Augustine (345-430), it does not seem necessary to give the details of his life and his work because, in theory, Europeans, as Christians, know it better than anyone else." Mohamed Chafik. [See The Tripolitanian Church, below, for more on St.Augustine.]

The humble Church of Cyrene has seen a number of bishops including the first Christian bishop Lucius of Cyrene (appointed by Mark), and the most famous bishop of Cyrene Sinesius of Tolemaidis (cf. Tolmeitha). It was also widely recognised that the Egyptian Coptic Church had strong historical roots in Libya. In fact both the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria are considered the successors of the Berber saint Mark's Church of Alexandria. 

The Ancient Metropolis of Libya included Livis, Marmarica, Drnis and Tripolitania; while the Great and Ancient Metropolis of Pentapolis comprised the five cities of Cyrenaica in Eastern Libya, namely: Cyrene, Apollonia, Tolmeitha (Ptolemais), Berenice and Arsinoe (Taucheira or Tokra).  Among the ancient churches of Cyrene are the Byzantine Church in Qasr Libya (the seat of a Bishopric during the Byzantine period); Ras Al-Hilal Church; Athrun Church; Apollonia Churches; Tolmeitha Church; the Cyrene Cathedral; and Benghazi Catholic Cathedral.

The best resource for churches in Cyrenaica is the "Christian Monuments of Cyrenaica", 2003, by J. B. Ward-Perkins and R. G. Goodchild, Edited by J. M. Reynolds. The 500-page volume includes archaeological studies undertaken between 1953 and 1971 by the late J. B. Ward-Perkins (d. 1981) and the late R. G. Goodchild (d. 1968), covering at least 35 churches, photographs, illustrations, maps, and a draft overview of the building techniques used; thereby representing detailed evidence for the study of late antique and early Byzantine Cyrenaica of a quality and extent that has never been available before [2003, 375 illus., 2 maps, index, ISBN 9781900971010].



Benghazi Catholic Cathedral

a catholic church domes from Benghazi
Benghazi Catholic Cathedral, with its two large distinct domes, was built between 1929 and 1939.

The largest colonial building still stands in Benghazi city centre today is the former Catholic Cathedral in Cathedral Square. It was also one of the largest churches in North Africa. The basilica-based, neo-classical style of the church was designed by the Italian architects Guido Ottavo and Cabiati Ferrazza, with the large domes covering both spans of the nave. Apparently, the original drawings of the plan show a three-floor bell tower that was never built.

Benghazi Catholic Cathedral church

Benghazi Catholic Cathedral, which currently (2009 - 2010) is undergoing renovation work by an Italian company.



Christianity hardly exists in modern Libya today, apart from a small minority of  foreign communities, mostly from Egypt, Europe and some African countries. The largest group of  Christians is the Coptic Orthodox, said to number around 60,000 Christians (with other minorities from the Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, and the Greek Orthodox churches).

The second largest Christian group in Libya is the Roman Catholics - around 40,000 Christians; followed by a small Anglican congregation in Tripoli, mostly of African immigrants. However there are several churches in Libya today including St. Francis and St. Mark's in Tripoli; St. Antonios and Catholic Cathedral in Benghazi; and St. Mary and St. George in Misratha.




Benghazi War Graves Cemetery

graves from Benghazi war cemetery, with lots of trees in the background

Graves From Benghazi War Cemetery.

The War Graves Cemetery was built and maintained by the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Sometimes the locals refer to this cemetery as the Australian Cemetery (Al-Maqbarah Al-Ustraliyah). The cemetery, located about 6km south-east of the city centre, is the home of Allied soldiers who died in the Second World War, from Libya, Sudan, South Africa, United Kingdom, Australia, Greece, India, and Norway. There are 1214 Commonwealth servicemen commemorated in this cemetery, including 163 unidentified servicemen.

Nearly a week after the first anniversary of the 17th of February a group of unknown vandals stormed the War Graves Cemetery on Friday the 23rd of February 2012 and desecrated a number of graves and headstones. The national Transitional Council had condemned the attack on the cemetery. The attack was said to have been related to the violence in Afghanistan. For more details and photos of the desecrated cemetery, see: www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2106230/




The Church of Tripolitania

Algerian Aquare church in Tripoli

While the Church of Cyrene was allied to the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Church of Tripolitania  was bound to the Church of Carthage  - the second largest Christian centre after Alexandria at the time. During the reign of the Berber Libyan Septimius Severus, Africa's first Roman Emperor, who built spectacular Leptis Magna, the Libyan Victor (189-199), also from Leptis Magna, became Africa's first Pope.

Among the achievements of Pope Victor was the introduction of the Latin language into the celebrations of the Mass in Rome, which was previously celebrated in Greek (the language of Greece) - or the language of the earlier Church before the seat of power was slowly transferred to Rome. He has also decreed that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday.

And in addition to more than one hundred African bishops, history remembers most the bishop of Hippo St. Augustine, one of the most devoted Christian scholars the world has ever seen. He was born in what is now known as Algeria on the 13th of November 354, and died in Hippo on the 28th of August 430. He was largely known for his Latin scholarship and for his massive contribution to Christian thought, and as such he was among the first ever Christian philosophers. His vision is detailed in his book: The City of God.


The Byzantine Basilica of The Time of Justinian

a cross


The Christian Byzantine Basilica of the time of Justinian, some parts of which are currently in display in Sabratha Museum, Libya, was built in the 6th century AD. But some of the material used, like the square-sided columns and the acanthus motifs, date from an earlier period, indicating that they were taken from earlier, pre-Christian, structures. The main aisles of the church were lavishly decorated with mosaics, which are currently in display in the museum. The church contains an impressive collection of wall and floor mosaic panels, rich in vibrant colours and geometrical designs, animals, birds and characters, as well as columns, column bases, and display cases of clay oil lamps.


the church door

This gallery of the museum is known as "The Church".

Mosaic from the Basilica of Justinian. These and other wall mosaics in display originally come from the basilica's two aisles.

the church mosaic floor

Mosaic designs from the Basilica of Justinian. This rich scene, which includes the peacock (near the top), originally comes from the central nave of the church.



Tripoli Christian Cemetery

First World War (WWI) Cemetery

hmanjy cemetery in Tripoli

First World War Cemetery & Catholic Church

This is a huge cemetery, the Christian Cemetery, locally known as "Hmanjay". The cemetery is run by the Italian Embassy in Tripoli, Libya. It is located in Souq Athulata (Atlat) in Tripoli. The complex includes a Catholic church, with Sunday and Christmas services, a First World War cemetery, housing a number of graves from various nationalities, with a Greek section (see below).


tripoli war cemetery


tripoli war cemetery


christian church tripoli altar
An altar from the Catholic Church in Tripoli.




The Greek Orthodox Church Cemetery In Tripoli

tripoli war cemetery
The Greek Orthodox Section of the Cemetery.

A grave stone showing names in the Greek language, from the cemetery

A memorial stone inscribed in the Greek language.



the Algerian Square Church



St. Francis Church In Tripoli

St Francis church Tripoli
St Francis Church, Tripoli.

St Francis church Tripoli




The Jewish Synagogue

Jewish Synagogue Tripoli

The Jewish Synagogue, Old Town, Tripoli.

Jewish Synagogue designs
Motif designs from the Jewish Synagogue, Old City, Tripoli.

One of the oldest synagogues found in Libya is located in Nafusa Mountain, in the Berber village of Yefren. The locals call it ma’abed al-yahoud (the Temple of the Jews) or kanisat al-yahoud (the Church of the Jews). The current building, clearly designed in relation to the Star of David, with its six arches and six windows, is built on an ancient synagogue said to be at least 2000 years old. Located east of the city centre the synagogue was used by a small community until 1948.




Related Resources

  • http://www.ww1cemeteries.com/
  • http://www.cwgc.org/search/cemetery_details.aspx?cemetery=2005100&mode=1


Christian Monuments of Cyrenaica: J. B. Ward-Perkins and R. G. Goodchild Edited by J. M. Reynolds. 2003. 500 pp., 375 illus., 2 maps, index ISBN 9781900971010

Greek Orthodox Church:
Tel 021.4448045 (Tripoli)
Tel 061 2233188 (Benghazi)

Coptic Orthodox Church:
Tel 021.4804542 (Tripoli)
Tel 061 9097046 / 9096588 (Benghazi)
Mob: 0913715096

Anglican Church:
Tel 021 4442037 / 0923096822 (Tripoli)

Union Church:
Tel 021 4770531 (Tripoli)

Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
Ibn Al-Khattab Street
P.O. Box 248



Christian heritage in Libya