A 1,500-year-old church has been uncovered on the road to Jerusalem, during archaeological excavations ahead of road work, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday. The church was part of a larger complex that served as a waystation for travellers.
The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, Highway 1, is being widened, and prior to any construction work in the country, excavations are conducted to preserve any possible antiquities in the area. At the entrance to Abu Gosh, not far from Jerusalem, a large Byzantine-era road station was uncovered, including a church.
The church measures about 16 meters (about 52.5 feet) in length, and includes a side chapel measuring 6.5 meters (over 21 feet) long and 3.5 meters (about 11.5 feet) wide, as well as a white mosaic floor. A baptismal font (baptisterium) in the form of a four-leafed clover, symbolizing the cross, was identified in the chapel’s northeast corner. In addition, fragments of red-colored plaster was found scattered throughout the building, indicating that the church had been decorated with frescoes.
Rooms found to the west of the church had probably been used as living quarters and for storage. One of the rooms still contained a large quantity of pottery tiles.
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According to Annette Nagar, director of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, “The road station and its church were built in the Byzantine period beside the ancient road leading between Jerusalem and the coastal plain. Along this road, which was apparently already established in the Roman period, other settlements and road stations have previously been discovered that served those traveling the route in ancient times. Included in the services provided along the route were churches, such as the one recently uncovered at the entrance to Abu Gosh.”
This is not the first church of its kind found by archaeologists. “Other churches have been recorded in the past in Abu Gosh, Qiryat Ye’arim, and Emmaus,” Nagar added.
The road station at Abu Gosh was a busy one in its day, as evidenced by the oil lamps, coins, special glass vessels, marble fragments, and mother-of-pearl shells found at the site.
“This road station ceased to be used at the end of the Byzantine period,” she said, “although the road beside which it was built was renewed and continued to be in use until modern times.”
Pablo Betzer, the IAA’s district archaeologist for the Judah region, added, “The finds have been documented and we shall be studying them. A decision has been made with the National Roads Company to cover over the site and preserve it for future generations.”