Archaeologists excavating a site in Israel have made great strides in uncovering a 6th-century Byzantine church. Inscriptions discovered in the 1,500-year-old church revealed that it was dedicated to a martyr, but experts have yet to identify the unknown saint. Now, the grounds have been dubbed “the Church of the Glorious Martyr,” and the team will soon display some of the artifacts found within.
Discovered in 2017, the Church of the Glorious Martyr is located about 15 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Live Science reports it was discovered during a routine survey of the area for a planned construction. The discovery led to a three-year excavation that has discovered relics, mosaics featuring zoomorphic animals, and deteriorating church buildings.
According to Archaeology Wiki, the church was funded by Emperor Flavius Tiberius (578-582), suggesting the mysterious martyr was of great importance and renown. The structure is impressive in its size, but also in what it contains. Spectacular floor mosaics depict birds, fruits and leaves surrounded by pillars of imported marble. It also features a rare cross-shaped baptismal font.
The site features a main church, many side chapels, a large courtyard, and a crypt church. Benjamin Storchan, director of the excavations on behalf of the IAA, noted that the crypt church was especially well preserved. He said:
“We have uncovered few churches of this type in the country, especially those with a crypt that survived in its entirety.” Storchan continues to explain that the crypt was an “underground burial chamber where, presumably, the relics of the saints were kept.”
Archaeological investigations have determined that the site survived the Islamic conquest of the 7th century. The church appears to have remained active until the 10th century, when it was abandoned. It does, however, bear signs of iconoclasm, or destruction of imagery deemed heretical.
These historical scars were prevalent among the mosaics featuring animals. There was evidence that a great effort was taken to erase such images. Storchan believes that the iconoclasm occurred during the 6th century due to internal Christian reforms. This, however, may not be completely accurate, as some depictions of animals, like mosaics of birds, were left in peace.
Archaeologists are still unsure of the identity of the glorious martyr, although Storchan has posited that it could be Zechariah. The name appears several times in the Bible and was a popular name of that era. This theory is supported by records of a shrine dedicated to Zechariah that is supposedly within the vicinity of the church. Only time will tell, but Storchan is hopeful that further excavation will uncover this mystery.
The Church of the Glorious Martyr has an upcoming app that will allow pilgrims to take a virtual tour of the site. The app has taken care to digitally recreate the site as it was in the 6th century. A preview of the app was put up on YouTube, featuring full 360-degree views of the church, both ruined and complete. Take a look at the video below to explore the Church of the Glorious Martyr.