Major Byzantine-era church unearthed in southern Israel By JPOST.COM
01/22/2014 12:43

Israel Antiquities Authority believes church was a regional center for Christian worship. Mosaic church floor
Mosaic church floor Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority
The Israel Antiquities Authority recently unearthed a 1500 year old Byzantine era church complete with intricate mosaic floors in southern Israel. The discovery was made during salvage excavations prior to the construction of a new neighborhood in the village of Aluma which is east of Ashkelon. The church was part of a settlement located next to the main road running between Ashkelon on the sea coast to the west, and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem to the east.

Dr. Daniel Varga, the archaeologist directing the excavations said:"An impressive basilica building was discovered at the site, 22 meters long and 12 meters wide. The building consists of a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars. At the front of the building is a wide open courtyard (atrium) paved with a white mosaic floor, and with a cistern. Leading off the courtyard is a rectangular transverse hall (narthex) with a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs; 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."

The main hall or nave of the church, has a colored mosaic floor adorned with vine tendrils to form forty medallions. The medallions contain images of different animals and botanical and geometric designs and inscriptions in Greek commemorating senior church dignitaries: Demetrios and Herakles who were heads of the local regional church. On both sides of the central nave are two narrow aisles with more colored mosaic floors depicting botanical and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols.

A pottery workshop, was also uncovered during the excavations yielding amphorae, bowls, oil lamps and glass vessels typical of the Byzantine period. The IAA said that these finds “indicate a rich and flourishing local culture.”

Because no other churches were found in other nearby communities from the same period the IAA inferred that the church may have served as a center for Christian worship for all the surrounding communities.

In order to preserve the site for future generations the IAA has decided to cover the site back up with earth. The intricate mosaic that however will be removed displayed to the public.

The site will be open to the public on Thursday and Friday of this week (23-24 January) – Thursday between 12:00-16:00 and Friday between 10:00-13:00. To register in advance or receive further details please e-mail

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