Byzantine-era church uncovered in Jerusalem highway expansion
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Byzantine-era church uncovered in Jerusalem highway expansion

Ruins near Abu Ghosh, part of a 1,500-year-old travelers’ way station, are latest in series of similar finds along route

Annette Nagar of the Antiquities Authority looks at the baptismal font of the Byzantine-era church discovered at Abu Ghosh during the expansion and upgrading of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, June 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Annette Nagar of the Antiquities Authority looks at the baptismal font of the Byzantine-era church discovered at Abu Ghosh during the expansion and upgrading of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, June 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Road workers expanding the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway found the ruins of a Byzantine-era way station and church near the entrance to a town just west of the capital, Antiquities Authority officials said on Wednesday.

The way station and church, which were found together with a still older Roman-era road, are located near a spring called Ein Naqa’a, which apparently served as their water source.

A statement from the IAA said the find, uncovered outside the town of Abu Ghosh, was thought to be about 1,500 years old. The site would be preserved in consultation with the highway company, the IAA said.

The 16-meter-long (52 feet) church building has a side chapel 6.5 meters long and 3.5 meters wide, with a floor tiled in white mosaic.

A baptismal font shaped like a four-leaf clover, symbolizing the cross, is located in the northeastern corner.

A baptismal font shaped like a four-leaf-clover, symbolizing the cross, found in the excavation of a Byzantine-era church discovered during the expansion of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, June 2015. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A baptismal font shaped like a four-leaf-clover, symbolizing the cross, found in the excavation of a Byzantine-era church discovered during the expansion of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, June 2015. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Annette Nagar, the Antiquities Authority official in charge of the excavation, said the Roman road, which follows the same path as the modern Route 1, had a number of way stations along it that had been found.

“Churches like the one just discovered at the entrance to Abu Ghosh were built along the road as part of the services offered along it,” she said. “Other churches were discovered in the past in Abu Ghosh and in Kiryat Ye’arim.”

She added the way station fell into disuse at the twilight of the Byzantine era, though the road remained into modern times.

View of the floor plan of the Byzantine-era church discovered near Abu Ghosh during the upgrading and expansion of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, June 2015. (Photo: Skyview, courtesy of Antiquities Authority)
View of the floor plan of the Byzantine-era church discovered near Abu Ghosh during the upgrading and expansion of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, June 2015. (Photo: Skyview, courtesy of Antiquities Authority)

Shards of plaster that had been painted red were found in the piles of dirt that covered the remnants of the building, an apparent indication that the walls had been decorated with frescoes.

Rooms were found west of the church that researchers believe were used for housing and storage. Many ceramic roofing tiles were found in one of the rooms.

Oil lamps, rings, glass vessels, shards of marble and mother-of-pearl shells were among the artifacts that were found in the excavation.

A small oil lamp is held over the mosaic floor of a Byzantine-era church discovered just off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, June 2015. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A small oil lamp is held over the mosaic floor of a Byzantine-era church discovered just off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, June 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
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