Byzantine Period Church With Beautiful Mosaics Discovered
ScienceDaily (Mar. 15, 2009) — A church that dates to
the Byzantine period which is paved with breathtakingly beautiful
mosaics and a dedicatory inscription was exposed in an archaeological
excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting near Moshav
Nes-Harim, 5 kilometers east of Bet Shemesh (at the site of Horvat
A-Diri), in the wake of plans to enlarge the moshav.
According to archaeologist Daniel Ein Mor, director of the excavation
on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The site was
surrounded by a small forest of oak trees and is covered with farming
terraces that were cultivated by the residents of Nes-Harim. Prior
to the excavation we discerned unusually large quantities of pottery
sherds from the Byzantine period and thousands of mosaic tesserae
that were scattered across the surface level”.
The excavation seems to have revealed the very center of the site,
which extends across an area of approximately 15 dunams, along the
slope of a spur that descends toward Nahal Dolev.
the first season of excavation (November 2008) the church’s
narthex (the broad entrance at the front of the church’s nave)
was exposed in which there was a carpet of polychrome mosaics that
was adorned with geometric patterns of intertwined rhomboids separated
by flower bud motifs. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the excavation
this mosaic was defaced and almost completely destroyed by unknown
vandals. During that excavation season a complex wine press was
partly exposed that consists of at least two upper treading floors
and elongated, well-plastered arched cells below them that were
probably meant to facilitate the preliminary fermentation there
of the must. Part of the main work surface, which was paved with
large coarse tesserae, was exposed at the foot of these cells. A
complex wine press of this kind is indicative of a wine making industry
at the site; this find is in keeping with the presence here of a
church and is consistent with our knowledge about Byzantine monasteries
in the region during this period (sixth-seventh centuries CE).
Other parts of the church were revealed in the current excavation
season. The area of the apse was almost entirely exposed, as were
other parts of the southern aisle.
Two rooms that are adjacent to the northern and southern sides
of the church were also uncovered. In the southern room a mosaic
pavement was exposed that is decorated with intertwined patterns
of different size concentric circles. The mosaic also includes a
dedicatory inscription written in ancient Greek that was deciphered
by Dr. Leah Di Signi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
O Lord God of saint Theodorus, protect Antonius and Theodosia the
illustres (illustres - a title used to distinguish high nobility
in the Byzantine period) [- - - ] Theophylactus and John the priest
(or priests). [Remember o Lord] Mary and John who have offe[red
- - ] in the 6th indiction. Lord, have pity of Stephen.
Various phases that were used after the church was abandoned in
the later part of the Byzantine period were discerned elsewhere
in the structure. The mosaic floor was completely destroyed in different
places and the area inside the church was put to secondary use.
Industrial installations that are ascribed to the same phase were
found which attest to the functional change the building underwent
during the end of the Byzantine period-beginning of the Early Islamic
period (seventh century CE).
According to Daniel Ein Mor, “We know of other Byzantine
churches and sites that are believed to be Byzantine monasteries,
which are located in the surrounding region. The excavation at Nes-Harim
supplements our knowledge about the nature of the Christian-Byzantine
settlement in the rural areas between the main cities in this part
of the country during the Byzantine period, among them Bet Guvrin,
Emmaus and Jerusalem”.
Adapted from materials provided by Israel Antiquities Authority.