The Byzantine Church discovered near Jericho (Photo: COGAT)

A church, with spectacular mosaic floors preserved from the Byzantine period, was uncovered by the Archeology Unit in the Civil Administration near the ancient city of Jericho. The Civil Administration, which is legally responsible for most excavations within Judea and Samaria, said that the church was probably established during the 6th century AD, and continued to exist even during the early Muslim period.

Despite the Muslim rule, during which depictions of figures in public spaces were largely forbidden, the phenomenon of Muslim iconoclasm found throughout Israel was not seen on the church floors to the relief and amazement of the archeologists.

The Civil Administration added that the dimensions of the church are approximately 250 square meters. The size of the church indicates that it was one of the largest regional churches of the Christian population in Byzantine-ruled Israel at that time. Unlike the churches that were destroyed in the earthquake in 749 AD, the church was abandoned several years before the earthquake and its doors were deliberately blocked, perhaps to avoid any destruction from local Muslims.

At the entrance to the prayer hall, an inscription in the Greek language more than 3 meters long, containing 5 lines was discovered. The inscription commemorated "Georgius and Nonus", which are likely local figures who contributed to the building of the church.

The floor of the church has been preserved almost completely, revealing a particularly spectacular mosaic carpet decorated with a pattern of vine braids, which develop into medallions bearing figures of animals. The wealth of the church is evidenced by other finds, which were made from materials not found locally and required a lot of effort to bring them, including marble columns and black bitumen stone.

The Civil Administration said that they intend to copy the church building to the administrator's mosaic museum of the "Good Samaritan" site where it will be displayed. It was also reported that "the Civil Administration sees great importance in the discovery of antiquities and will continue to invest its greatest efforts in headquarters work and archaeological excavations for the continued discovery of the region's glorious past."

An archeology staff officer in the Civil Administration, Hanania Hizami, added: "I am excited and welcome the historic and amazing discovery, which joins a number of discoveries uncovered by the Archeology Subcommittee Unit in the Civil Administration. We will continue to work for the discovery and preservation of the history of Judea and Samaria."


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