Cruciform Columbarium

Photographs

Two of the four arms of the columbarium.
A ledge on which the doves could have walked upon.
The Greek name XAPω ("Charo") seen etched into a wall of the columbarium, possibly that of a worker
Niche in use even today by a local pigeon
The stepped entrance.
The steps as carved into the wall.

Virtual Tour

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Video

Video Transcript

We named this columbarium, or dovecote, as the Cruciform Columbarium because of its shape as a cruciform. It dates back to the third century BCE, to the Hellenistic Period, where the Edomites were settled in this settlement. It’s quite a unique Columbarium; first of all because of its cruciform shape, and also because it contains dozens of niches for the turtledoves, part of them in the shape of a triangle and part of them as oval shaped niches. As part of its unique architecture we have uncovered like a terrace on the upper part of the columbarium. This is only a decoration and a place where the turtledoves could walk and look at the other side of the columbarium. Also, we have uncovered at least two names of the people who worked here in the columbarium, probably the workers; one of them the ancient name, a greek name, of (Havo) that was inscribed on the wall.

Description

A columbarium, or dovecote, is an installation known from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine periods for the breeding and housing of doves. During the Hellenistic period, it took the form of a subterranean chamber or complex with hundred of triangular or oval-shaped niches for the doves to nest. The seven columbaria thus far discovered at Beit Lehi apparently date to this time period. During the Byzantine period, a columbarium was generally a circular stone-built tower. Doves were used for food, fuel and fertilizer, as well as—to a lesser extent—for sacrifice during the Second Temple period.

One subterranean cruciform (cross-shaped) columbarium, dating to the Hellenistic period, was discovered approximately 1200 feet from the “Jesus is here” cave, containing about 850 niches. A hewn staircase, descended from the entrance to the floor. Apparently after the columbarium was no longer in use, a narrow tunnel was hewn from the upper part of the chamber’s southeastern corner, which probably led to another chamber (presently blocked). The Greek name "Charo" (XAPω) was found inscribed into the eastern wall of the southern arm. An inscribed cross is seen underneath the inscription.