In 2017 Israeli archaeologists made a stunning discovery from the Byzantine period . They uncovered a Christian church that is elaborately decorated with breath-taking mosaics. The Byzantine church was dedicated to a martyr, whose identity is a mystery.
Now you can virtually visit the church of the ‘glorious martyr’ from home, thanks to the creation of a web-based app which guides you through “a lifelike 3D model of the Church as it looked nearly 1,500 years ago,” according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Discovering the Massive Byzantine Basilica
Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority excavated the church after it was uncovered during work on a housing development in the city of Beit Shemesh . The church dates from the 6th century when the region was ruled by the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire .
According to Haaretz, many of the people who worked on the salvage excavation project were high-school kids.
The church was designed based on a “basilica plan, with a central nave flanked by two halls” according to Haaretz. This site measures approximately 4500 square feet (1500 square meters). The complex consisted of the basilica and several ancillary buildings.
At the front of the church is a large courtyard. The dig leader, Benjamin Storchan, stated that “both the basilica and the courtyard are massive for the period – larger than most Byzantine churches found in the Holy Land,” according to Haaretz.
Remarkable Mosaics Discovered in the Byzantine Church
An underground crypt was found in the church, lined with marble and a rare cross-shaped baptismal font . Many thousands of Byzantine-era objects were recovered, including glass windows and lamps.
The Jerusalem Post reports that in the ruins there are “spectacular mosaic floors, featuring imaginative, nature-inspired decorations such as leaves, flowers, and vivacious birds”. Wall mosaics have also been uncovered.
church was first built during the reign of Justinian (527-565 AD) and was completed in the 540s. It was further enlarged by Emperor Tiberius II Constantine (540-582 AD). It is possible that the church’s chapel was built during his reign.
The winged eagle symbols appear to show that the basilica found in Beith Shemesh was an Imperial church. There is little known about these churches that were favored by the emperors. The discovery means that researchers can now better understand the role of these places of worship in the Holy Land.
The Byzantine Church Was Built for a Mysterious Martyr
Christian churches are commonly dedicated to a saint or martyr. According to Haaretz “researchers uncovered an intact Greek inscription dedicating the sacred site to the memory of an ‘endoxo martis’ – a glorious martyr”.
This martyr was possibly interred in the marble crypt that was found at the site. Storchan is quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying, “two separate sets of stairs lead to the crypt, allowing large groups of pilgrims to visit it at the same time”.