Mosaic floors found in what may be biblical Bethsaida’s lost Church of Apostles

On shore of the Sea of Galilee, ancient site is found mysteriously buried and enclosed by wall; excavations continuing

The mosaic floor of the Church of the Apostles, near the Sea of Galilee. (Mordechai Aviam/Courtesy)
The mosaic floor of the Church of the Apostles, near the Sea of Galilee. (Mordechai Aviam/Courtesy)

Archaeologists in northern Israel have uncovered mosaic floors in the ruins of a building they believe is the lost Church of the Apostles, in the biblical village of Bethsaida on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Christians believe the legendary basilica was built on the location of the onetime home of Jesus’s apostles Peter and Andrew.

During excavations over this summer by the Kinneret Institute for Galilee Archeology at Kinneret College and Nyack College — led by Prof. Mordechai Aviam and Prof. Steven Notley — the mosaic floor of the supposed church from the Byzantine period was discovered.

Archaeologists had announced the discovery of the purported church building in 2019, and have been working at the site since.

The mosaic bears inscriptions that the researchers say are typical to Byzantine churches, and may prove the site was indeed the Church of the Apostles. One inscription was a dedication to a bishop that described a renovation during his time in office, indicating that it was major enough to warrant fixing up, Aviam told the Haaretz daily.

The researchers said the site can be identified with the church mentioned by an 8th-century Bavarian bishop named Willibald.

Willibald in 724 CE traveled on pilgrimage to holy sites along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and was recorded saying: “And thence they went to Bethsaida, the residence of Peter and Andrew, where there is now a church on the site of their house. They remained there that night, and the next morning went to Chorazin, where our Lord healed the demoniacs, and sent the devil into a herd of swine.”

A column of the Church of the Apostles, near the Sea of Galilee. (Mordechai Aviam/Courtesy)

The building — approximately 27 by 16 meters (88 by 52 feet) in size, covered with the colorful mosaic — is a suitable candidate for the lost church, the archaeologists believe. It was found with its outer walls preserved to a height of about one meter (3.3 feet). However, not a single opening was identified.

The researchers could not point to a conclusive reason as to why the building was buried within a wall without openings.

Twenty years after Willibald’s pilgrimage a large earthquake hit the area, apparently damaging the church. The researchers said it was possible the remains of the church were intentionally enclosed by a wall and the site was preserved and commemorated.

The mosaic floor of the Church of the Apostles, near the Sea of Galilee. (Mordechai Aviam/Courtesy)

Another possibility for the closure raised by the archaeologists was that the site served as the location for a sugar factory in the Middle Ages. The builders of the facility may have filled the area with dirt when laying their foundations for the facility. Many fragments of sugar vessels were said to have been found while uncovering the supposed church.

The researchers said excavations will continue next year, and eventually the entire building will be cleaned out, with the goal of answering why the site was buried, and by whom.

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