Two unearthed Byzantine church complexes have shed light on the tradition of Christian pilgrimage in the Holy Land.
The churches, according to Catholic archaeological scholars in Jerusalem, were most likely sites of veneration for local Christians rather than for pilgrims from abroad.
“Most people only think about pilgrims coming from outside, but local pilgrimage was also important in Byzantine times, as it is today,” said Franciscan Fr Eugenio Alliata, archaeology professor at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. “These discoveries are very important (in that they) show that many local people were visiting these places and venerating these holy places.”
Both of the complexes include two separate church buildings.
One of the complexes is a well-preserved Byzantine-era church complex uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority just outside of Jerusalem near the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh. A 10-line inscription, found intact in a floor mosaic in the courtyard, dedicated the church to a “glorious martyr.”
Benjamin Storchan, director of the Beit Shemesh excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said although the martyr’s identity is not known, the extraordinary splendour of the structure and its inscriptions indicate the person was an important figure in early Christianity and was well-known by early pilgrims of the nascent faith.
He noted that in Byzantine times, it was customary to hold only one Communion ceremony per day in a chapel, and he conjectured that having two churches allowed more pilgrims to receive the Eucharist.
Picture: Thousands of young people have participated in the excavation of a Byzantine church complex in Beit Shemesh, Israel, over the past three years. (CNS photo/Assaf Peretz, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority).