Daily Israel Report

1500 Year Old Byzantine-Era Church Uncovered

Israeli Antiquities Authority discovers the first religious structure in southern Israel from the Byzantine period.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 1/22/2014, 7:53 PM

Mosaic at uncovered church
Mosaic at uncovered church
Israeli Antiquities Authority

Israeli archaeologists uncovered amazing finds this week, including a 1500 year-old church, five ancient inscriptions and an elaborate mosaic, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday. 

The IAA discovered the church during salvage excavations, prior to the construction of a new neighborhood at Moshav Aluma in the Shafir Regional Council, near Pelugot Junction. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dr. Daniel Varga and Dr. Davida Dagan, and funded by the Israel Land Authority (ILA).

Dr. Varga noted, "An impressive basilica building was discovered at the site, 22 meters long and 12 meters wide. The building consists of a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars."

"At the front of the building is a wide open courtyard (atrium) paved with a white mosaic floor, and with a cistern," Varga continued. "Leading off the courtyard is a rectangular transverse hall (narthex) with a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs; at its center, opposite the entrance to the main hall, is a twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names Mary and Jesus, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic's construction."

The main hall (the nave) has an elaborately colored mosaic floor, which is adorned with vine tendrils to form forty medallions. The medallions contain depictions of different animals; three medallions contain dedicatory inscriptions in Greek commemorating senior church dignitaries Demetrios and Herakles.

On both sides of the central nave are two narrow halls (side aisles), which also have colored mosaic floors depicting botanical and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols.

A pottery workshop was also discovered during the salvage excavation. Utensils found at the site indicate that the church, and the workshop, herald back to the Byzantine period - some 1500 years ago, according to the release.

The church was apparently the religious cornerstone of an immense community during that period, which is located along the road between Ashkelon and Jerusalem. The IAA notes that while other Byzantine-era finds have been made in the region - including a wine cellar and other community dwellings - this is the first religious structure to be found in the area. 

The site will be covered and preserved, the IAA announced, for future study and observation.