Magnificant Byzantine-era church uncovered in Israel

  • Artwork was  found when a major Byzantine church was excavated
  • Features  Greek symbols, turtles, zebras, flowers and geometric shapes
  • Church  was likely to be a major centre of Christian worship in Aluma, around 30 miles  south of Tel Aviv

By Sarah Griffiths – PUBLISHED:  06:00  EST, 23 January 2014

An ancient mosaic showing a menagerie of  animals from birds to leopards, has been unearthed in southern  Israel.

The intricate artwork was found when a  1,500-year-old Byzantine church was excavated and has Greek symbols, which  archaeologists say shows that it once served as a centre of Christian  worship.

The church ruins were discovered during  excavations ahead of an infrastructure project in Aluma, some 30 miles (50km)  south of Tel Aviv, Israel.

An ancient mosaic showing a menagerie of animals from birds (pictured) to leopards, has been unearthed in southern Israel in a town near Tel Aviv

An ancient mosaic showing a menagerie of animals from  birds (pictured) to leopards, has been unearthed in southern Israel in a town  near Tel Aviv

Archaeologists believe the  church was an important part of a Byzantine settlement, which lay on the main  road running between Jerusalem and the ancient sea port of  Ashkelon.

‘The church  probably served as a centre of Christian worship for neighbouring communities,’ they said.

Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority  (IAA) discovered marble pillars and the mosaic floor inside the basilica, which  measures 72ft by 39ft (22 by 12metres).

Daniel Varga, director of the  IAA’s excavations, said: The ‘fine mosaic floor decorated with coloured  geometric designs’ lies in the entrance of the church and there is a ‘twelve-row  dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names Mary and Jesus, and the  name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction.’

The intricate artwork was found when a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church was excavated and has Greek symbols, which archaeologists said show that it once served as a centre of Christian worship

The intricate artwork was found when a 1,500-year-old  Byzantine church was excavated and has Greek symbols, which archaeologists said  show that it once served as a centre of Christian worship

“Usually a Byzantine village had a church, but the size of this church and its placement on the road makes it more important,”  excavator Davida Eisenberg Degen, pictured, said.

The mosaics in what would have been the  church’s nave are decorated with vines in the shape of 40 medallions, which each  show a different animal, including a zebra, leopard, wild boar, turtle and  winged birds as well as botanical and geometric designs.

There are also Greek inscriptions that  mention two local leaders of the church, Demetrios and Herakles.

Enlarge

The mosaics in what would have been the church's nave are decorated with vines in the shape of 40 medallions, which each show a different animal, including a zebra, leopard (foreground), wild boar (back left), turtle and winged birds as well as botanical and geometric designs

The mosaics in what would have been the church’s nave  are decorated with vines in the shape of 40 medallions, which each show a  different animal, including a zebra, leopard (foreground), wild boar (back  left), turtle and winged birds as well as botanical and geometric designs

On both sides of the central nave there are  two narrow halls or side aisles, which also have coloured mosaic floors depicting botanical  and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols.

A pottery workshop, mainly  for the production of jars, was also uncovered during the excavations and  yielded numerous finds, including, amphorae, cooking pots, bowls and different  types of oil lamps.

Glass vessels typical of the Byzantine period  were also discovered at the site, and indicate a rich and flourishing local  culture, archaeologists said.

On both sides of the central nave there are two narrow halls or side aisles, which also have coloured mosaic floors depicting botanical and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols. This mosaic shows vine medallions framing birds and Greek words

On both sides of the central nave there are two narrow  halls or side aisles, which also have coloured mosaic floors depicting botanical  and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols. This mosaic shows vine  medallions framing birds and Greek words

t has been decided that the site (pictured) will be covered over to preserve it for future generations and the mosaic will be removed, conserved and displayed locally

It has been decided that the site (pictured) will be covered over to preserve it  for future generations and the mosaic will be removed, conserved and displayed  locally

Excavations by the IAA along  the same road have revealed other communities from the same period, but no  churches have been found until now.

It is thought people living in the area some  1,500 years ago made a living by making wine and exporting it west to the coast  so it could be sold in the wider Mediterranean area.

It has been decided that the site will be  covered over to preserve it for future generations and the mosaic will be  removed, conserved and displayed locally.

Jewish men who study in a nearby 'yeshiva' or religious seminary, pass by the large Byzantine era church that archaeologists have uncovered. Archaeologists believe the church was an important part of a Byzantine settlement which lay on the main road running between Jerusalem and the ancient sea port of Ashkelon

Jewish men who study in a nearby ‘yeshiva’ or religious  seminary, pass by the large Byzantine era church that archaeologists have  uncovered. Archaeologists believe the church was an important part of a  Byzantine settlement which lay on the main road running between Jerusalem and  the ancient sea port of Ashkelon
Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) discovered marble pillars and the mosaic floor inside the basilica, which measures 72ft by 39ft (22 by 12metres)

Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA)  discovered marble pillars and the mosaic floor inside the basilica, which  measures 72ft by 39ft (22 by 12metres)

One of the most remarkable finds so far was a mosaic containing a Christogram, or a “type of monogram of the name of Jesus,” Degen said.

Byzantine Christians wouldn’t have put crosses on their mosaic floors so as to not step on the symbol of Christ, Degen explained. The Christogram in the mosaic may look like a cross, but it’s actually more like a “chi rho” symbol, which puts together the first two capital letters in the Greek word for Christ, which resembles an X superimposed on a P.

There is also an alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet on either side of the chi rho, which is another Christian symbol. Christ was often described as the “the beginning and the end.” Four birds also decorate the mosaic, two of which are holding up a wreath to the top of the chi rho.

In the church’s narthex, or lobby area, there is “a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs” as well as a “twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names ‘Mary’ and ‘Jesus’, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction,” Varga said in a statement.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2544490/Stunning-1-500-year-old-church-mosaics-displaying-exotic-birds-leopards-zebras-unearthed-Israel.html#ixzz2rOqHr4Nm Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Stunning! This awesome work was obviously done with great love and care and  demonstrates how much they loved our Lord. The words dedicating all that is beautiful to Jesus and Mary. The birds and animals symbolize His creation.

The mention of oil-lamps reminded me of St. Augustine’ de Ordine – people in the ancient Mediterranean used a food-related item of olive oil for light since wax from honey bees weren’t widely available for candles. According to The Cultural Biography of the Roman Olive a liter of olive oil provides approximately 250-300 hours of light in a terracotta lamp – not bad. Source: St.Augustine’s de Ordine  10.1.3.

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