Byzantine-era church discovered in southern Israel

1,500 years old Byzantine church uncovered by Israel Antiquities Authority; Findings include the names of Mary and Jesus; Head archeologist: discovery evidently the major church of the region

The excavation site (Israel Antiquities Authority)

The excavation site (Israel Antiquities Authority)

The Israel Antiquities Authority has discovered ruins of a Byzantine-era church believed to roughly 1,500 years old. The ruins include parts a church and mosaics including five written engravings. The church is believed to be from the second half of the sixth-century and was uncovered only three meters beneath the ground surface.

The Israel Antiquities Authority believes the finding is “evidently the major church of the region… and probably served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities.”

The location of the church is believed to be that of a Byzantine town, located in Lachish, not far from the southern city of Ashkelon and Jerusalem. It is the first archeological finding of a church in the region. Archeologists discovered the ruins during an excavation prior to the construction of a new neighborhood in the region, construction halted while the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) continued its dig.

The discovery made in late January by Israeli archeologists has been under research by the IAA for close to a month now. The church, a basilica building approximately 72 feet long by 40 feet wide, is divided into three halls separated by marble columns, includes a courtyard of mosaic and a well.

Mosaic floors of the church (Eliyahu Hershkovich)

Mosaic floors of the church (Eliyahu Hershkovich)

Within one of the halls, the mosaic floor consists of geometric shapes and designs and includes five inscriptions, one of which mentions Mary and Jesus. The mosaic includes grapevines and medallions in the center. The medallions depict animals including a flamingo, giraffe, rabbit bear, zebra, peacock, chameleon, rabbit and bird.

Archeologists also found a possible image of a man which was  destroyed in what they believe was intentional due to opposition of human images in churches, a belief of devout Christians from the Byzantine period.

Archeologist Dr. Daniel Varga, who led the excavation alongside Dr. Davida Dagan, stated in a press release that, “At its center, opposite the entrance to the main hall, is a twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names Mary and Jesus, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction.”

Findings from the archeological dig include pots, bowls, candles, oil lamps and jugs in what archeologists report as a “rich and flourishing culture” during the Byzantine period.

The site is to be preserved, the location to be covered in dirt and the IAA will remove the mosaic floors to be put on display. The IAA has not announced how long the process will take.