Byzantine church discovered near Jerusalem

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered the remains of a Byzantine church and road station just west of Jerusalem. The site is believed to be about 1500 years old.

Remains of a Byzantine church discovered near Jerusalem. Photo by Skyview Company, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority
Remains of a Byzantine church discovered near Jerusalem. Photo by Skyview Company, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

The announcement was made last by the Israeli Antiquaries Authority, after work was done during upgrading a highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The Byzantine church that was uncovered measures about 16 meters in length, and includes a side chapel 6.5 m long and 3.5 m wide and a white mosaic floor. A baptismal font (bapisterium) in the form of a four-leafed clover (symbolizing the cross) was installed in the chapel’s northeast corner. It is believed that church operated from the 5th to 7th centuries AD.

Fragments of red-colored plaster found in the rubble strewn throughout the building showed that the church walls had been decorated with frescoes. To the west of the church were rooms that were probably used as dwelling quarters and for storage. One of them contained a large quantity of pottery tiles. The excavations yielded numerous different finds, testifying to intensive activity at the site. These included oil lamps, coins, special glass vessels, marble fragments, and mother-of-pearl shells.

Oil lamp found in the excavation. Photo by Assaf Preretz, courtesy Israel Antiquities AuthorityAccording to Annette Nagar, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The road station and its church were built in the Byzantine period beside the ancient road leading between Jerusalem and the coastal plain. Along this road, which was apparently already established in the Roman period, other settlements and road stations have previously been discovered that served those traveling the route in ancient times.

“Included in the services provided along the route were churches, such as the one recently uncovered at the entrance to Abu Gosh. Other churches have been recorded in the past in Abu Gosh, Qiryat Ye’arim, and Emmaus. This road station ceased to be used at the end of the Byzantine period, although the road beside which it was built was renewed and continued to be in use until modern times.”

Pablo Betzer, the Israel Antiquities Authority’s district archaeologist for Judah, added, “The finds have been documented and we shall be studying them. A decision has been made with the National Roads Company to cover over the site and preserve it for future generations.”

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