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Medieval convent restored in Israel after being accidentally damaged

An early medieval nunnery located in Israel has been re-excavated and repaired after being damaged. The Horvat Hani convent existed from the fifth to the ninth century.

The monastic site had been surveyed several times, most recently about twenty years ago by the Israel Antiquities Authority. After this research was completed it was covered up again. Now located within an Israeli military site near the West Bank, the nunnery was accidentally damaged by soldiers.

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“Recently, a small part of the ancient ecclesiastical site was damaged in the course of army activities in the military zone,” says Issy Kornfeld, who directed the excavation. “In this context, the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the Nature Defense Forces program, initiated an educational project, whereby this impressive site was re-opened and cleaned up under the guidance of the Israel Antiquities Authority Community Educational Centre. In the original excavation, two buildings were uncovered, one of which was a church paved with a colorful mosaic depicting faunal and vegetal scenes, an entrance hall, the nuns’ dormitories, hermit cells, a tower with rooms, and a crypt, an underground burial complex. The other building included a kitchen, a refectory (dining hall) and an inn for pilgrims.”

Aerial view of the church complex in the military zone. Photograph: Idan Yunish, Israel Antiquities Authority.

There was evidence that the convent preserved a tradition related to women. Dr. Eitan Klein, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, proposed that the convent may have commemorated the burial place of the biblical-figure Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, and who gave birth to the prophet Samuel.

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Uzi Dahari and Yehiel Zelinge, who researched the site, explain:

We assume that a local tradition associated the arcosolium cave with Hannah or another woman about whom we have no details, and attracted pilgrims, particularly women, possibly barren women, to the convent that was built above the tomb in the Byzantine period, and which was identified as her tomb.

Decorative elements in the mosaic pavement. Photograph: Gilad Stern, Israel Antiquities Authority.

This event is being viewed by the Israel Antiquities Authority as an opportunity for better cooperation between the archaeological community and the country’s military forces. Eli Eskosido,  Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, comments that “the adoption of archaeological sites in army bases and military zones, and the creation of archaeological exhibitions in army bases, further consolidate the strong connection between the defense of the State of Israel, and the protection of the ancient sites and our cultural inheritance.”

Click here to read “The Excavation at Ḥorvat Ḥani – Final Report and a Survey on Nuns and Nunneries in Israel” by Uzi Dahari and Yehiel Zelinge

Conservation work on the mosaic pavement. Photograph: Gilad Stern, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Top Image: Decorative elements in the mosaic pavement. Photograph: Gilad Stern, Israel Antiquities Authority.

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