The Byzantine Church

Photographs

A team of American volunteers exposing the church mosaic.
Looking North across the floor.
Images from the church mosaic floor.
Images from the church mosaic floor.
Images from the church mosaic floor.
Images from the church mosaic floor.
Images from the church mosaic floor.
Tiger in the mosaic floor.
A Greek dedicatory inscription mentioning a donation made by two brothers for the construction of the church.
Images from the church mosaic floor.
Olive Press located south of the church.
Muslim grave on top of the floor.

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Video

Video Transcript

The Byzantine church was founded in around five hundred CE during the Byzantine the Christian period of the side of Beit Lehi. This is one of the biggest and most monumental buildings at the site. The church itself was divided into three parts.

The atrium which was paid by stone slabs and had a water installation in its center. Up the stairs is a corridor which divided the atrium from the courtyard and the Basilica. On the upper part of the building there is a basilica, a nave paved with the beautiful mosaic floor and two aisles also paved with a beautiful mosaic floor decorated with the scene of a boat with a fisherman, probably fishing in the sea of Galilee. The orientation of the church is toward the east like most of the Byzantine churches in the land of Israel. There's a very nice apse where is located an altar and another two rooms to its side. On the southern part of the church there's a large olive press and next to it a wine press.

So here we are at evening sitting on the Byzantine chapel floor with the columns going down both sides and I'm sitting here in the front or the apse of the church you'll notice off to my left there's a single step leading up to a platform and on my right two steps leading up to a platform. I think the church is symbolic in many different respects but in this respect I think this represents a lesser authority and the greater authority and its representative right here within the mosaic floor as well as on these two altars to my left and to my right.

Description

The Byzantine church on the westernmost area of the site was excavated between 1983 and 1986 by the late Prof. Yoram Tsafrir and Dr. Joseph Patrich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Their excavation yielded a church complex that comprised the following: the above-mentioned basilical church with its ornate colorful mosaic floor, a baptistery containing a basin surrounded by a marble screen; an oil press, a wine press, and a burial cave. According to the excavators, the church was in use from the beginning of the sixth to the eighth century AD. After the church complex went out of use, a small chapel was built into the apse. During the Late Islamic period the area was converted into a Muslim cemetery, damaging parts of the mosaic floor. The church comprises an atrium, the stone-paved entrance courtyard, measuring 65 × 100 feet; a narthex, the entrance chamber, featuring three doorways; the main hall, measuring 45 × 67 feet, divided by two rows of five columns each; an apse with an auxiliary rooms flanking it from north and south; and a baptistery, measuring 11.5 × 13.5 feet, which adjoined the church from the south.

The basilica, chapel, and baptistery are entirely paved with colorful mosaics featuring faunal, floral, and geometric designs, including two fishermen inside a boat enclosed in a medallion. Also seen in the mosaics are four Greek inscriptions: two are dedicatory and two recite Psalms ("light to the righteous in all" and “the Lord will guard your comings and goings"). Some of the images were defaced as a result of iconoclastic activities during the eighth century AD, indicating that the Christian community at the site was still active following the Islamic conquest of the region. A partially rock-hewn oil press was discovered south of the church. Known as a lever-and-screw press, the olives were pressed by means of a wooden lever, one end of which inserted in a deep niche in the hewn eastern wall; its other end held a screw whose point was anchored in a heavy stone. A stone vat was sunk in the floor. The crushing basin was found west of the church entrance courtyard (atrium).