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Byzantine Churches Continue to be Discovered

by  Dr. John DeLancey

Most people from the United States think “old” in relation to US history means something like 200+ years.  We freely talk about dates associated with our country, like 1776 and the Civil War in the 1860s, and we say things like, “Wow, way back in the early days of our country, things were different then…”   For sure, something 250 years old is indeed “old” but not as “old” as things that are found in Israel.

“Old” is such a relative concept, because when things like when Byzantine churches are found that date back 1,550 years ago, some in Israel simply yawn and say, “Are you kidding me?  That’s not ‘old’ in comparison to something found from the Old Testament days.”  And they are perfectly correct.  “Old” is simply a relative concept.

With this being said, the new discovery of this Byzantine Church just west of Jerusalem is indeed a remarkable find. While at times I find myself “yawning” at such a find (because there are so many other Byzantine ruins all over Israel), archaeologists here have done a wonderful job in uncovering impressive structures dating to the 4-5th century AD.  Almost more impressive is that this Byzantine church was discovered as a result of widening the main road.  This is how it works anywhere in Israel: In the course of road construction, if any archaeological ruins are accidentally revealed, the construction stops immediately, and a team of archaeologists are called in to analyze the finds. These digs are commonly called “rescue digs.”  This church was found at Abu Gosh right off the exit of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, Highway 1.

According to the initial report of this recent discovery, a number of structures, including a church, was unearthed. As stated,  “The church measures about 16 meters (about 52.5 feet) in length, and includes a side chapel measuring 6.5 meters (over 21 feet) long and 3.5 meters (about 11.5 feet) wide, as well as a white mosaic floor. A baptismal font (baptisterium) in the form of a four-leafed clover, symbolizing the cross, was identified in the chapel’s northeast corner. In addition, fragments of red-colored plaster was found scattered throughout the building, indicating that the church had been decorated with frescoes.”  Rooms for living quarters and for storage. One of the rooms still contained a large quantity of pottery tiles.

According to Annette Nagar, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “The road station and its church were built in the Byzantine period beside the ancient road leading between Jerusalem and the coastal plain. Along this road, which was apparently already established in the Roman period, other settlements and road stations have previously been discovered that served those traveling the route in ancient times. Included in the services provided along the route were churches, such as the one recently uncovered at the entrance to Abu Gosh.”

To read more about Byzantine churches and this discovery, click HERE.