Day trip: Last chance to see Hirbet Midras excavations

What was thought to be an ancient synagogue is actually a church that the Israel Antiquities Authority plans to close to the public next week.

Khirbet Midras is a large site (about 40 acres) 30 km SW of Jerusalem, in the heart of the Shfela. Danny Herman, an archeologist and one of itraveljerusalem's tour guides discusses the new findings:
Although documented since the 19th century, Khirbet Midras was never really excavated. Surveys at the site detected various remains, mostly from Classical periods. One of them is a large stone lintel, which was always visible. Some suggested that the lintel was part of an ancient synagogue, but recently a team of the Israel Antiquities Authority exposed the vicinity of the lintel, and to everyone's surprise it turned out to be a church.
The church had a typical basilical shape, and its mosaic floors are remarkably well preserved. Most of them depict geometric designs, yet at several spots lively images of animals, birds, and fish can be seen.
Unfortunately, no inscriptions were recovered, and so the cultural and religious context of the church is not completely clear. Behind the apse, an empty crypt was discovered, which may have been used for burial or related to the veneration of relics.
Some scholars suggested the church was related to the memorial of Zacharia, but with the lack of an inscription, this possibility remains as an educated guess.
An agonizing issue, says Danny, is that with the lack of budget to prepare the site for visits and tourism, next week the Israel Antiquities Authority plans to cover the whole building, in order to protect its remains.
Therefore, this weekend is probably the last chance to see the church, including its extraordinary mosaic floors, before they are concealed.
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