Road Workers Find 1,500-year Old Church Near Jerusalem

Byzantine-era church and roadside station discovered during works to expand the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway.

Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The remains of a large Byzantine-era church has been discovered on an even more ancient road at the entrance to Abu Ghosh, a town in the hills just off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

The current excavation season uncovered a church measuring about 16 m in length. The church featured a large side chapel, 6.5 by 3.5 meters in area, with a white mosaic stone floor. A baptismal font in the form of a four-leafed clover, symbolizing the cross, was installed in the chapel’s northeast corner, the Israel Antiquities Authority says.

Fragments of red-colored plaster found in the rubble strewn throughout the building indicate that the church walls had been decorated with frescoes, the IAA adds. The site had a water source – the ‘Ain Naqa‘a seep spring.

Rooms that may have served as dwelling quarters and storage were uncovered just west of the church.

Among the other finds at the site were oil lamps, coins, glass vessels, marble fragments, and mother-of-pearl shells.

As are so many archaeological finds in Israel, this one was made by the National Roads Company, in this case while expanding the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. The company is also funding the excavation by the IAA, headed by Annette Nagar.

“The road station and its church were built in the Byzantine period beside the ancient road leading between Jerusalem and the coastal plain," Nagar said in a statement. "This road station ceased to be used at the end of the Byzantine period, although the road beside which it was built was renewed and continued to be in use until modern times,” she added.

That road apparently dates back to the Roman era, and possibly earlier. Numerous other settlements and wayside stations have been discovered in the past, Nagar notes, including in Abu Ghosh itself and at Emmaus, west of Jerusalem, where Jesus is supposed to have reappeared after resurrection.

The site will be covered again for the sake of its preservation, the IAA says.