Tag Archives: church

Samaria-Sebaste

After leaving the archaeological park on Mount Gerizim I went looking for the ancient city of Samaria-Sebaste. Samaria was the site purchased by Omri for two talents of silver from Shemer and made the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Kings I 16:24-28). Omri’s son Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and they built a temple to the pagan god Baal which was later destroyed by Jehu, who had Jezebel and 70 princes of Ahab’s family killed. Sebaste, was the Greek equivalent of the Latin Augusta, was Herod’s name for the city when the area was given to him by the Emperor Augustus. Herod rebuilt the city, in full Roman style, a kilometer long cardo of 600 columns, a forum, a Roman basilica, stadium, temple, hippodrome and theater surrounded by a wall and gates.

I picked up 2 trampistim (hitchhikers) who were on their way to Shavei Shomron who pointed me in the right direction to Samaria-Sebaste. The road loops around the settlement, a tall concrete separation wall on the left and then heads north. I stopped for directions at an impromptu stand by the side of the road where a Palestinian fellow was selling two kinds of plums, yellow and purple ones – he gave me 2 to taste and pointed to a dirt road on the right heading up the hill. The road is passable by car, just. A short drive and I was on a straight road through a grove of olive trees with two rows of Roman columns, standing along the road and in a row among the trees (cardo).

Continuing along the road I passed some excavated ruins and noticed a set of stairs to the left going up the hill (acropolis) as I approached the town. Left turn and I pulled into an open area (forum) bordered by rows of columns and parked the car.

A fellow stepped out of the Samaria restaurant and souvenir shop and greeted me. Sari, who had lived in Alabama for a number of years, there are decals of Alabama sports teams on the window, introduced himself and offered to show me around. First stop was the Hellenistic tower and Roman theater.

From there we walked to the top of the hill, the acropolis where Herod built a temple to Augustus over the administrative buildings and parts of the palace of Omri from the 8th century BCE.

There is a great view of the surrounding area and specifically the Roman cardo below.

The monumental steps leading to the temple were redone with the rebuilding of the temple during the reign of Septimus Severus (193-211CE).

From there we walked to the ruins of a small 7th century Byzantine church with Crusader additions where according to one tradition the head of John the Baptist was kept. It’s then a short walk back to the square. In walking through the forum I noticed a section of a fine marble lintel with egg and dart carving.

A great day trip that I would be happy to guide – the ruins at Mount Gerizim and Samaria-Sebaste. To fill out the day, you can cross Samaria to the Jordan valley and add some of these sites: the mosaic zodiac at Bet Alfa synagogue, the archaeological site at Bet Shean, the Crusader fortress at Belvoir, the monastery in Wadi Qelt, the mosaic museum at the Inn of the Good Samaritan depending on your interests.

Advertisements

Hirbet Midras Vandalized!

Just reported by Ynet (in Hebrew), Hirbet Midras, the site of the Byzantine church in the Ella Valley with the incredible mosaic floors, uncovered just two months ago and visited by tens of thousands of people was deliberately and brutally vandalized Wednesday night. The Antiquities Authority had made considerable effort to prepare the site and had decided to leave the mosaics uncovered so that people could visit and see them. The supervisor and archaeologist in charge, Alon Klein of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Crime Prevention unit was shocked to find the destruction this morning when he arrived at the site.

Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

“Someone took a hammer and attacked the mosaic, digging them up in a large number of spots. A person hiking in the park had reported the damage. The mosaic looks like it has been hit by mortar shelling. It’s a sad sight, heart breaking. The mosaics suffered serious damage as a result of brutal vandalism. ” said Klein.

Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

The Antiquities Authority has filed a criminal complaint with the police who are investigating. The mosaics will now be covered to protect them. When asked about whether the damage could be repaired the response was that it would be time-consuming and require a significant outlay of money but hopefully it could be done (at least to a certain degree).

This on the heels of the explosion yesterday near the entrance to Jerusalem and the escalation of rockets and mortar being fired on Beersheva and the coastal cities of Israel from Gaza. Sigh.

Antonio Barluzzi

Antonio Barluzzi is known as an architect but for many years he thought about entering a seminary. It was on the advice of his spiritual mentor and encouragement of his older brother Giulio, already an architect, that he entered the engineering school at university to study to become an architect. After graduation and his army service he worked with his brother on several architectural projects in Rome.

By 1910 Turkey is described as the “sick man on the Bosphorus” and all the European powers were staking their claim to pieces of the Holy Land. Schiaparelli of the Italian Missionaries Association hired Giulio to design and build an Italian hospital in Jerusalem with substantial financial aid from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Guilo is overloaded with work and probably prefered Rome to Jerusalem so he sent Antonio.

Schiaparelli recommended that “in the new building, a worthy chapel should have a place of honour, which can accommodate, in special circumstances, the Italian colony”. He also suggested that it be named Santa Maria Latina in memory of the old church of the Amalfitans in Jerusalem (today the Crusader part of the German Lutheran Church in the Muristan). So Antonio designed the hospital, definitely Italian looking, a curious mixture of the Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza Signoria in Florence and the tower of the Mangia in Sienna.

With the outbreak of the First World War Barluzzi left for Italy and entered a seminary and stayed for 40 days, then Italy entered the war and he was called up. Italy allied itself with Britain, Barluzzi was recommended to the Ministry of War as an expert on the Holy Land and so on December 11, 1917, our architect entered Jerusalem on foot through Jaffa gate together with General Allenby.

In 1978 while studying in Israel I took some photos of the Old City with a Nikkormat SLR camera using black and white film. One photo in particular I liked quite a lot, a pastoral scene just across from Damascus Gate looking north, of a young Arab boy shepherding four goats in a field. In the distance, framed by two trees is an Italian looking building. Of course, today the field is gone but the building is Barluzzi’s Italian hospital, his first building in Jerusalem.

The question was where would I find that photo from 30 years ago. I started looking through shoeboxes of photos and after about 10 minutes in a box with old letters, lo and behold found the negatives. I took them to be developed and a few hours later had prints of the photos. I shot a similar view the other day from the ramparts at Damascus gate.

From there I walked over to the chapel – the Italian hospital buildings are being used by the Israeli Ministry of Education. Unfortunately the chapel is not open to the public.

Barluzzi was asked to build two churches by the Franciscans, on Mount Tabor and in the Garden of Gethsemane. He returned to Italy to ponder his future. He wrote in his diary: ‘I go to Father Corrado, the confessor of my youth, I explain my circumstances and ask what I must do. ‘Go and build the Sanctuaries, and then we’ll talk again.’ My heart leaps for joy, and I say: ‘It is Gods will’.

So Barluzzi began to build a basilica on the top of Mount Tabor, one of the traditional sites of the Transfiguration. This was a challenging task in 1919 because there was not even a road or water, which had to be carried by mules; even the stone masons were brought from Italy. Again Barluzzi borrowed from an existing church, St. Simeon the Stylite near Aleppo, for his design because of the importance of the Transfiguration in the Syrian liturgy and the triple division of the facade matched the three figures in the story, Moses, Jesus and Elijah. The roof was originally of alabaster tiles in order to let the light in, unfortunately these had to be covered to prevent the rain coming in but Barluzzi used the element of light to the full.

At the same time he was working on the basilica at Gethsemane, called both the Church of All Nations and the Church of the Agony. Here Barluzzi developed his symbolic architecture, in this case Christus dolens et triumphans. The suffering of Jesus and his pain is represented by a building of Byzantine inspiration which evokes the beginning church, a somber interior of dark mosaics with the light filtered by purple glass, with twelve small domes, like the apostles. The glory is  the triumphal facade of classic Roman inspiration, a triple round arch, supported by four large pilasters surrounded by columns topped with Corinthian capitals (a similar capital was found during the excavations and is on display at the Stadium Biblicum archaeological museum).

Barluzzi went on to build numerous other churches, transforming into stone the deepest sentiments of his heart and dedicated his life to honoring and glorifying the earthly Jerusalem. It is a blessing to be able to experience his work.


Just inside Jaffa gate is the Franciscan Christian Information Center. As of the date of this post, there is an exhibit about Antonio Barluzzi that I highly recommend.

Mosaics at Hirbet Midras

All of the floors recently uncovered in the church at Hirbet Midras have incredible mosaics, that are extraordinarily well preserved. The mosaics include both intricate geometric designs and floral, fauna, fish, birds and fruit. The tesserae are fine, 7mm cubes in an assortment of colors enabling the artists to create realistic images. You can click on any of the images to see it in higher resolution.

The apse of the church with a geometric rectangular carpet; the curved part has an image of a rooster and duck in a design of grapevine tendrils and bunches of grapes.

Display of mosaics in the aisle, geometric patterns on either side of a panel with chukar birds.

Close up of the chukar bird panel.

Panel that combines birds, fish and lotus.

Image of a lion attacking what looks like an ibex among grapevines. Interesting to compare it with the image of the lion attacking the deer under the tree from Hisham’s Palace (Khirbet El-Mafjar, 7th century) near Jericho.

Byzantine Church, Hirbet Midras

Amir Ganor is not your usual archaeologist. Although he works for the Israel Antiquities Authority he packs a handgun because his primary responsibility is apprehending thieves who plunder sites for valuable artifacts to sell on the antiquities market. In this case a group of Palestinians were breaking into the complex of tunnels and caves in the Judean Coastal Plain or shefela in the area of Beit Guvrin, specifically Hirbet Midras, looking for coins and other treasure. This led Ganor to the site where a large stone lintel was uncovered.

The same lintel was first uncovered in the 1980s and based on the expert opinion of Prof. Amos Kloner was thought to be from a synagogue since it was almost identical to one found in the north at Hirbet Nevoraya. Ganor requested approval and support from the Antiquities Authority to excavate the area to discover more about the public building. Within a short time very impressive and beautiful floor mosaics were uncovered. Large dressed stones with what look like Byzantine crosses were discovered when the plaster covering them fell off. Combined with the architectural details, an apse, a crypt, mosaic floors, it seems that the building was a church. The church was destroyed by an earthquake some 1,300 years ago and lay mostly covered until the 19th century. The columns and capitals are displayed exactly as they were found, lying parallel on the ground and the northern wall is angled out from the movement of the earthquake.

There are several construction phases, in the last two the building was used as a splendid church. However, in the first phase the excavation shows that the later church was built inside a large public compound from the Second Temple period. The church, in its last phases, was built as a basilica, a central nave and two wide aisles that are delineated by eight marble columns with magnificent capitals which were specially imported (the eight bases can be seen but only 3 capitals and columns remain). The front of the church had a large flagstone courtyard, a narthex, and at the end of the nave is a raised bema or platform (that was added later – you can see that the mosaic floor continues under the bema).

All of the floors in the building were adorned with incredible mosaics, that are extraordinarily well preserved; these include both geometric designs and floral, fauna, fish, birds and fruit. Today I went out to the site to photograph the mosaics (before they are covered to protect them until the site can be readied for visitors). You can view them at https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/mosaics-hirbet-midras/

Located behind the bema are two rooms, one paved with a marble floor and the other that led to an underground tomb that was empty.

Beneath the entire building is a subterranean complex in which there are rooms, water installations, traps and store rooms for hiding. Among the artifacts discovered are coins from the time of the Great Revolt (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba uprising (132-135 CE), stone vessels, lamps and various pottery vessels that are characteristic of the Jewish population from the settlement at that time.

Scholars who visited the site during the excavation proposed identifying the crypt as the tomb of the prophet Zechariah. Early Christian sources identified his burial place in the village of Zechariah which was discovered in 415CE. In light of these sources, including the Madaba Map (the building with the apse with the Greek, ΒΕθΖΑΧΑΡ to its left is Bet Zechariah), scholars think the church at Hirbet Midras is a memorial church meant to mark the tomb of the prophet Zechariah.

Two Churches: Mary and Jesus

Two Churches: Old and New

In the Kidron valley is a church built on a rock cut cave that is the tomb of Mary, mother of Jesus. Through the centuries the cruciform (in the shape of a cross) church was destroyed many times but the facade and wide staircase descending to the tomb is from the Crusader period. On the left side of the staircase a chapel to Joseph, Mary’s husband, on the right a chapel to Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne; Queen Melisende is also buried there. Today the Greek Orthodox Church is in possession of the shrine, sharing it with the Armenian Apostolic Church (the Syriacs, the Copts, and the Abyssinians have minor rights). A niche on the southern wall is a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca, installed when Muslims had joint rights to the church.

In a courtyard off the Via Dolorosa in the Old City is a small church that reminds me of the Crusader church. The Church of the Flagellation, marks the Second Station of the Cross, where according to tradition, Roman soldiers flogged Jesus and placed a crown of thorns on his head after he was brought to Pontius Pilate. The architect, Antonio Barluzzi, rebuilt this church in 1929, in medieval style over ancient ruins. Barluzzi designs churches so that the style and decoration preserve the history and recall the events that happened at the site. The facade has one central opening with a Crusader style pillow-shaped arch that incorporates a crown of thorns. There are 10 icons under the roof, a crown of thorns, two representations of a cat of nine tails (see if you can recognize the others, for example there is an image of a rooster and 3 stars*). The floor is made of small, inlaid colored stones in geometric patterns.

Probably the most impressive part of the church are three large stained glass windows: on the left, Pilate washing his hands of the affair, on the right, the victory cry of Barabbas, in front, the flogging of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns amidst the soldiers. Above is a dome in gold mosaic and decorated with a crown of thorns intertwined with flowers.

 

Click on the thumbnails above to display a larger image (these are quite incredible stained glass images). Included below is a closeup of the dome.

Near the church of the Tomb of Mary are two other Barluzzi churches, the Church of the Agony at Gethsemane, also known as All Nations and the Franciscan chapel farther up the Mount of Olives, Dominus Flevit. You can contact me about arranging a tour to visit Barluzzi churches including:

  1. St Veronica Church, VI Station of Via Dolorosa
  2. Chapel, XI Station in Church of Holy Sepulcher
  3. Church of Visitation, Ein Kerem
  4. Church of Lazarus, Bethpage
  5. Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee
  6. Church of Transfiguration, Mount Tabor

* Rooster and 3 stars refer to Jesus’ prophecy at Gethsemane that Peter will deny him 3 times before the cock crows

Mosaics at Inn of Good Samaritan

On the main highway <1> between Jerusalem and Jericho is a site identified with the Inn of the Good Samaritan (mentioned in the parable in Luke 10:25-37). Remains from the first century BCE to the first century CE were found throughout the area. Abundant finds from this period include pottery, clay lamps, glass vessels, metal implements and numerous coins attesting to intensive activity that befits an inn for Jewish and then Christian pilgrims and travelers making their way between Galilee and Jerusalem.

Byzantine artifacts

In the Ottoman period, a rectangular structure was built over the southern wall of the Crusader fortress. This building underwent numerous alterations and was restored after being damaged during WWI. It served as a roadside inn guarding the Jerusalem-Jericho road from attacks by brigands as it had for centuries.

Since the parable of the good Samaritan includes men of three faiths, the newly opened museum has chosen to display the mosaic floors and other artifacts found in churches and Jewish and Samaritan synagogues in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It is fascinating to see the similarities and differences among the images displayed in mosaic.

Mosaic Khirbet Huriya

The art of mosaic began in the Greek world around the 4th C BCE and reached Israel during the Hellenistic period. It continued to develop and by the end of the Second Temple and Roman periods simple, plain and geometric mosaics became more ornate, complex with representations of flora and fauna, people, instruments, religious symbols. It became the chief means of paving public buildings, private homes, bath houses, churches and synagogues.

Mosaic floor

Places Nearby

Take the cutoff to Maale Adumim to visit the Martyrius monastery (there is a combined entrance ticket; note you need to phone in advance), the largest in the Judean desert. Inside the complex the main church was paved with colorful mosaics in geometric patterns interspersed with pictures of animals; the refectory floor, discovered intact, is covered with mosaics in geometrical designs and the kitchen was also paved with mosaics.

On the opposite side of the road along Wadi Qelt visit one of Herod’s fortresses, named after his mother, Cypros. There are 2 bath houses with remains of mosaic floors.

If you are planning a trip down to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi don’t forget to take a few minutes to check out the mosaic floor in the synagogue (your entrance ticket to the nature reserve is good for the antiquities park). The synagogue has a detailed 18 line inscription in Hebrew and Aramaic including the 12 signs of the zodiac (indicated by their names but not depicted graphically as in most other synagogues of the same period, eg. Tiberia, Bet Alfa, Tzippori). The central hall has 4 birds within a medallion, peacocks grasping a bunch of grapes, a menora and geometric patterns.