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Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem


Israeli archaeologists have revealed an elaborately decorated Byzantine church dedicated to an anonymous martyr that was recently uncovered near Jerusalem.

Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Site of the church exposed in Ramat Beit Shemesh [Credit: Asaf Peretz,
Israel Antiquities Authority]
The Israel Antiquities Authority showcased some of the finds from the nearly 1,500-year-old structure on Wednesday after three years of excavations. The findings will be exhibited at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum.

Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
A general view of an ancient church in the Israeli town of Bet Shemesh
[Credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP]


An inscription on a mosaic says the site was built in honor of a “glorious martyr.” The martyr is not identified, but other inscriptions commemorate the empire’s expansion under the sixth-century ruler Justinian and one of his successors, Tiberius II Constantine.

Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Israeli archaeologists wash the mosaic floor in an ancient church that was recently
uncovered in Beit Shemesh 
[Credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP]
Because of the church’s size and rich trappings, researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority believe it was a popular pilgrimage site until it was abandoned during the Muslim Abbasid caliphate in the 9th century AD.

Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
The Eagle, symbol of the Byzantine Empire, discovered at a Byzantine-era church complex
in Ramat Beit Shemesh [Credit: Asaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority]


The elaborate design of the church, including a lattice marble chancel, calcite flowstone baptismal and floor mosaic depicting an eagle, a symbol of the Byzantine Empire, shows the site’s notable funding and significance.

Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Greek inscription in the floor of the Byzantine-era church in Ramat Beit Shemesh [Credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP]
The excavation’s director, Benjamin Storchan, said the excavation showcases a phenomenon known as “imperial church building.”

Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Cross-shaped baptismal font and Greek inscription in the floor of the Byzantine-era church
in Ramat Beit Shemesh [Credit: Asaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority]


He said the empire maintained important sites and supported a tourist industry. “They took part in ensuring the development of pilgrimage routes,” he said.

Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Byzantine church to mystery martyr unearthed near Jerusalem
Timnah Goloubin, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, shows the crypt of the
Byzantine-era church in Ramat Beit Shemesh 
[Credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP]
The site was discovered during construction of a new residential neighbourhood. It covers 1,500 square meters (16,000 square feet) and includes a large courtyard, a corridor and the basilica-style church.


Following the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, the church entrances were sealed shut with large stones which excavators have opened and found glass lamps, mosaics and a piece of the vault where the unknown martyr was buried.

Author: Patty Nieberg | Source: The Associated Press [October 23, 2019]

TANN

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