An impressive Byzantine monastery dating to the late sixth-century has been discovered in the northern part of the Negev Desert in Israel. The site was discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority during preparations for the construction of a highway.
The structure, measuring 20 × 35 meters, is divided into halls built along an east–west axis, the most outstanding of which are the prayer hall and dining room due to the breathtaking mosaic floors revealed in them.
The prayer hall is paved with a mosaic on which a pattern of leaves is vibrantly portrayed in blue, red, yellow and green colors. The dining room floor is a colorful mosaic pavement depicting floral motifs, geometric decorations, amphorae, baskets and even a pair of birds.
According to Daniel Varga, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “It seems that this monastery, located near the Byzantine settlement of Horbat Hur, is one monastery in a series of monasteries situated alongside a road that linked Transjordan with the Be’er Sheva‘ Valley”.
The mosaics also include four Greek dedicatory inscriptions denoting the names of the monastery’s abbots: Eliyahu, Nonus, Solomon and Ilrion, and the dates when the pavements were constructed in the different halls. These inscriptions also aided archaeologists in dating the monastery to the second half of the sixth century CE. One of the inscriptions is bilingual. In addition to the Greek there is also a section of the inscription that is written in the Syriac language.
The entrance to the monastery was located in the west. The monastery’s western wing, which is divided into four service rooms, is paved with a white mosaic, much of which was destroyed following the collapse of the building at the end of the Byzantine period.
Various pottery assemblages were discovered during the excavation of the monastery. These include large storage vessels such as different kinds of amphorae and jars, cooking pots, kraters and bowls. In addition, numerous and sundry glass vessels ascribed to the Byzantine period were discovered, as well as coins. These finds indicate there was a rich material culture in the monastery.
Officials plan on relocating the monastery, including its mosaics, to the Wadi ‘Attir agricultural/tourism project adjacent to the nearby village of Hura.