Oldest Christian Chapel in Israel - update
- Oldest Christian Chapel in Israel - update
IN HOLY LAND MAY CAUSE PRISON RELOCATION
By Etgar Lefkovits
January 25, 2006
In an unprecedented move, Israel's top archaeological body is
recommending that the Megiddo Prison be relocated due to the recent
discovery of the most ancient Christian place of worship ever found
in Israel on the grounds of the prison.
The ruins of the Christian prayer hall, which was located inside a
Roman villa, date back to the first half of the third century CE,
making the chapel the earliest place of Christian worship ever
unearthed in the Holy Land, excavation director and Israel
Antiquities Authority archaeologist Yotam Tepper said Tuesday.
The site in question, which is located between an ancient Jewish
village dating back to the Roman period and what used to be a Roman
Army camp, was uncovered last year after authorities sought to
expand the prison grounds and prisoners stumbled upon the ruins
during routine excavations.
The building, which is thought to have belonged to a Roman officer,
has a rectangular hall with a mosaic floor bearing geometric
patterns, a medallion decorated with drawings of fish -- a symbol
widely used in early Christianity -- and three Greek inscriptions.
One inscription names an army officer who contributed toward the
paving of the floor, the second is dedicated in memory of four
women, and the third mentions a woman who contributed a table or
altar to the God Jesus Christos.
Pottery shards and coins found in the excavation date the mosaic to
the first half of the third century, Tepper said during a visit by
President Moshe Katsav and senior Christian religious leaders in the
He noted that the Jesus inscription found on the mosaic was one of
the first such epigraphic references ever unearthed.
The prayer site, which unequivocally associates the Roman military
officer with Christianity, is viewed as especially rare in that it
precedes the recognition of Christianity as an official religion.
Tepper said Tuesday that the "unique" discovery could shed new light
on Early Christianity, which was banned by the Romans until the
The established view is that Christian churches did not begin to
appear in the region until the fourth century following Emperor
Constantine's edict in
313 that Christians could worship freely in the Roman Empire.
The Antiquities Authority said that the structure found at the site
does not fit the accepted architectural definitions of a church, and
so they deem it to be a Christian prayer hall, or chapel.
The building was never used again after the third century, and was
covered with dirt until the mosaic was discovered as the prison
sought to expand, and the excavations were carried out, Tepper said.
"We are talking about a unique and unprecedented find which is
exciting the entire Christian world," said Antiquities Authority
director Shuka Dorfman.
"Any move which would disconnect the mosaic from its site would
injure the cultural values this site represents," he added.
President Moshe Katsav said that in light of the historical
dimensions of the find he fully supports the recommendation of the
Antiquities Authority to relocate the prison, noting that during his
recent visit to the Vatican the Pope inquired if he may visit the
site on his future visit to Israel.
The prison, which is likely to be moved as a result of the find,
currently holds about 1,200 prisoners, prison authority spokeswoman
Orit Messer-Harel said Tuesday.
Megiddo, also known as Armageddon, is the place where the New
Testament says the ultimate battle of good and evil will be waged.
Today the prison is located along a major thoroughfare in northern
Israel and is surrounded primarily by fields.