Byzantine-Period Church Uncovered in Israel

by johnsmith

A team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum has discovered the ruins of a 1,500-year-old Christian church ornamented with finely carved stone elements and a 2,000-year-old mikveh (ritual bath) near Gethsemane, a garden on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.

The ruins of the Byzantine-period church and a Second Temple-period mikveh were found near Gethsemane, Israel. Image credit: Israel Antiquities Authority.

The ruins of the Byzantine-period church and a Second Temple-period mikveh were found near Gethsemane, Israel. Image credit: Israel Antiquities Authority.

The newly-discovered church was built at the end of the Byzantine period (6th century CE).

“The church commemorates one of the many events attributed to the place in the New Testament,” said IAA archaeologists Dr. David Yeger and Dr. Amit Re’em.

“Greek inscriptions found incorporated in the church floor read: ‘For the memory and repose of the lovers of Christ (cross) God who has received the sacrifice of Abraham, accept the offering of your servants and give them remission of sins. (cross) Amen’.”

“It is interesting to see that the church was being used, and may even have been founded, at the time when Jerusalem was under Muslim rule, showing that Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem continued during this period as well,” Dr. Yeger added.

The archaeologists also discovered an underground cavity, identified as a Second Temple-period ritual bath, near the modern Church of Gethsemane.

“The Church of Gethsemane, also known as the Church of the Agony or Church of All Nations, located at the foot of the famous Mount of Olives, is one of Christianity’s most important churches and is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year,” they said.

“The modern church was built on the spot where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was betrayed.”

“According to Christian belief, Jesus used to pray on Mount of Olives (Lk. 22:39) and prayed here on the night before the crucifixion (Matt. 26:36).”

“Gethsemane is one of the most important sanctuaries in the Holy Land, because in this place the tradition remembers the confident prayer of Jesus and his betrayal and because every year millions of pilgrims visit and pray in this place,” said Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land.

“Even the latest excavations conducted on this site have confirmed the antiquity of the Christian memory and tradition linked to the place, and this is very important for us and the spiritual meaning connected with the archeological findings.”

“The discovery of the ritual bath probably confirms the place’s ancient name, Gethsemane,” Dr. Re’em said.

“Most ritual baths from the Second Temple period have been found in private homes and public buildings, but some have been discovered near agricultural installations and tombs, in which case the ritual bath is located in the open.”

“The discovery of this bath, unaccompanied by buildings, probably attests to the existence of an agricultural industry here 2,000 years ago — possibly producing oil or wine.”

“The Jewish laws of purification obliged workers involved in oil and wine production to purify themselves.”

“The discovery of the ritual bath may therefore hint at the origin of the place’s ancient name, Gethsemane (Gat Shemanim — ‘oil press’), a place where ritually pure oil was produced near the city.”


This article is based on text provided by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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