A mosaic floor that appears to be from one of the earliest churches in the history of Christianity was uncovered recently in Nazareth, Israel, at the Church of the Annunciation by a team of archaeologists led by a team of American and Israeli archaeologists.
The Church of the Annunciation is seen by Christians worldwide as a shrine of great significance dating back to the origins of what became Christianity. According to an ancient tradition, the Angel Gabriel “announced” the forthcoming birth of Jesus at a spring or well that Mary was visiting to get water. It became the place where the Greek Orthodox located their church in the Byzantine period. The church was destroyed multiple times and rebuilt in the pre-modern period.
“The mosaic floor is beautifully decorated with multiple stylized crosses and iconography,” said Professor Richard Freund of the University of Hartford. The floor was uncovered as a result of ground penetrating radar and electrical resistivity studies sponsored by the University of Hartford.
The mosaic is thought to have been created in the fourth century, when Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, came to the Holy Land to establish Christian pilgrim sites.
Duquesne University’s Dr. Philip Reeder, who is a co-investigator on the project, explained that “based on the data we collected in December 2012 and January 2015 using the geophysical techniques ground-penetrating radar and electro-resistivity tomography, we determined that ‘something’ was buried beneath the courtyard behind the current incarnation of the church.” His team created maps that depicted the location of the structural anomalies the team found approximately six feet below the surface. Based on this information, an excavation was licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and approved by the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Nazareth and the Arab Orthodox Council.
The excavation was led by University of Hartford Professors Richard Freund and Maha Darawsha, and Haifa University Professor Shalom Yanklovitz. Dr. Harry Jol from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, geophysicist Paul Bauman from the energy and resources company Worley Parsons, and Reeder comprise the remainder of the research team.
“The mosaic floor is beautifully decorated with multiple stylized crosses and iconography,” Freund said.
Adjunct Professor Maha Darawsha, who was born just outside of Nazareth and teaches Arabic language and culture and archaeology at the University of Hartford, is credited with finding the magnificent mosaic floor. She also is a faculty member at the University of Connecticut in Arabic language and culture. In this video for EHNA TV, an Arabic station, she reveals more about the site.
For the past 14 years, Freund and the University of Hartford Nazareth Excavations have been working in this area, on the Mary’s Well and Bathhouse Project, the Church of the Annunciation and Mary’s Cave, on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Arab Orthodox Council and the Israeli Antiquities Authority. The work has tracked remains from the Roman period from the well area, and the Byzantine and Crusader remains to the modern period.
Freund, who is the Director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies and Greenberg Professor of Jewish History at the University of Hartford, notes that “the Bishop and the entire Greek Orthodox community is very excited by the discovery of the ancient mosaic. The church is already preparing the site for pilgrims and visitors. They are putting in glass viewing stations [through which one] will be able to see the mosaic beneath.”