Major Byzantine-era church unearthed near Kiryat Gat

Antiquities Authority believes the basilica-style structure, complete with intricate mosaic floors, was a regional center for worship.

Mosaic church floor (photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)
Mosaic church floor
(photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)

The Antiquities Authority recently unearthed a 1,500-year-old Byzantine era church complete with intricate mosaic floors in the South.

The discovery was made during salvage excavations ahead of construction of a neighborhood in the village of Aluma, about 3 km. northwest of Kiryat Gat. The church was part of a settlement located next to the main road running from Ashkelon on the coast to Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem.
“An impressive basilica building was discovered at the site, 22 meters long and 12 meters wide,” Dr. Daniel Varga, the archeologist directing the excavations, said.
“The building consists of a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars. At the front of the building is a wide open courtyard (atrium) paved with a white mosaic floor, and with a cistern. Leading off the courtyard is a rectangular transverse hall (narthex) with a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs; at its center, opposite the entrance to the main hall, is a 12-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names Mary and Jesus, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction,” he said.
The main hall, or nave, of the church, has a colored mosaic floor adorned with vine tendrils to form 40 medallions. The medallions contain images of different animals and botanical and geometric designs and inscriptions in Greek commemorating senior church dignitaries: Demetrios and Herakles, who were heads of the regional church, the authority said. On both sides of the central nave are two narrow aisles with more colored mosaic floors depicting botanical and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols.
A pottery workshop was also uncovered during the excavations, yielding amphorae, bowls, oil lamps and glass vessels typical of the Byzantine period. The Antiquities Authority said these finds “indicate a rich and flourishing local culture.”
Because no other churches were found in nearby communities from the same period, the authority inferred that the church may have served as a center for Christian worship for the surrounding communities.
To preserve the site, the authority has decided to cover it back up with earth. The intricate mosaic, however, will be removed and displayed to the public.
The site will be open to the public this week, on Thursday between noon and 4 p.m. and on Friday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. To register in advance or receive further details email [email protected]