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Soldiers restore 1,500-year-old site of ancient convent accidentally damaged by IDF

Archaeological complex including church and colorful mosaic may have been built to memorialize biblical Hannah, mother of prophet Samuel, says Israel Antiquities Authority

Decorative elements in the mosaic pavement at an ancient convent at Horbat Hani, near the central town of Shoham. (Gilead Stern/Israel Antiquities Authority)
Decorative elements in the mosaic pavement at an ancient convent at Horbat Hani, near the central town of Shoham. (Gilead Stern/Israel Antiquities Authority)

A group of IDF soldiers took part over the past month in an effort to uncover anew a 1,500-year-old nuns’ convent said to honor the biblical Hannah near the central town of Shoham, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

A small area of the Horbat Hani site located inside a military zone had been unintentionally damaged by army activity, the release said. Soldiers were enlisted to excavate and clean up the convent in a joint educational project between the authority and military called The Nature Defense Forces Program: Officers Take Responsibility for the Environment.

“The Byzantine convent was first excavated twenty years ago by Dr. Uzi Dahari and Dr. Yehiel Zelinger of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and it was subsequently covered up to protect it. It is now visible again, thanks to the project carried out with the soldiers,” the statement read.

The convent at Horbat Hani may have been built to commemorate the final resting place of biblical Hannah, said the IAA. According to the Bible, Hannah, a wife of Elkanah, was childless until she promised to raise a child in the service of God, and thus she bore the prophet Samuel.

The original excavation revealed two buildings: one with a church paved with a colorful mosaic, nuns’ quarters, and a crypt, and another that included a “kitchen, refectory (dining hall) and an inn for pilgrims,” according to Issy Kornfield, the IAA’s director of the recent excavation.

“As often in the ancient world, the convent was erected here, commemorating an ancient tradition, possibly of the burial place of Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel,” Kornfield said.

Issy Kornfeld of the Israel Antiquities Authority guiding the soldiers in the field, at an ancient convent at Horbat Hani, near the central town of Shoham. (Gilead Stern/Israel Antiquities Authority)

“The excavation is an example of officers taking responsibility for the environment and carrying out meaningful activity,” said Guy Saly, director of the IDF Nature Defense Forces Project, and added that the soldiers and officers enjoyed participating in the archaeological work.

IAA director Eli Eskosido said the presence of such complexes in army bases creates a “strong connection between the defense of the State of Israel and the protection of the ancient sites and our cultural inheritance.”

The IAA said the mosaic is “partially visible,” and visits to the site can be arranged with permission from the IDF Central Command.

An aerial view of the ancient convent at Horbat Hani, near the central town of Shoham. (Idan Yunish/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Eight years ago, a project called the Nature Defense Forces project was launched by the army, the Defense Ministry, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) and the IAA.

In addition to protecting archaeological sites, the project participates in environmental conservation efforts.

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