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Remains of a 1300 year old church discovered in Israel

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 1,300-year old church, with ornate mosaic floors, at the village of Kfar Kama in northern Israel. The excavation was carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with the Kinneret Academic College and local volunteers.

Nurit Feig, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, explains, “the church, measuring 12 by 36 metres, includes a large courtyard, a narthex foyer, and a central hall. Particular to this church is the existence of three apses (prayer niches), while most churches were characterized by a single apse. The nave and the aisles were paved with mosaics which partially survived. Their colorful decoration stands out, incorporating geometric patterns, and blue, black, and red floral patterns. A special discovery was the small reliquary, a stone box used to preserve sacred relics.”

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An additional series of rooms was partially uncovered adjacent to the church. According to a ground-penetrating radar inspection operated by Dr. Shani Libbi, there are additional rooms at the site yet to be excavated. According to the researchers, “it is quite possible that this large complex was a monastery.”

In the early 1960s, a smaller church with two chapels was excavated inside the village of Kfar Kama, and was dated by the finds to the first half of the sixth century CE. According to Professor Moti Aviam of Kinneret College, “this was probably the village church, whilst the church now discovered was probably part of a contemporary monastery on the outskirts of the village.”

Mosaic floor of the medieval church. Photography: Alex Wiegmann, Israel Antiquities Authority

The new discovery hints at the apparent importance of the Christian village settled in the Byzantine period close to Mount Tabor, a site of primary religious significance for Christianity, identified as the site of the Transfiguration. In 1876, when the Circassian Shapsug tribe first settled in Kfar Kama, they used the stones of the ancient village to build their houses.

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The discovery of the church in Kfar Kama will contribute to the extensive research project on the Christian settlement in the Galilee that is being carried out by Moti Aviam and Jacob Ashkenazi of the Kinneret Institute of Galilean Archaeology in the Kinneret Academic College.

Mosaic floor of the medieval church. Photography: Alex Wiegmann, Israel Antiquities Authority

Top Image: Aerial view of the church remains. Photography: Alex Wiegmann, Israel Antiquities Authority

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