'Like greeting Christian pilgrims': Archaeologists find 1,500-year-old church wall in the Negev

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
3 Min Read

Israeli archaeologists discovered a 1,500-year-old Byzantine-era church wall with drawings of a ship while excavating an area of ​​a Negev city for expansion, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Thursday.

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Israel Antiquities Authority excavation directors Oren Shmueli, Dr. Elena Kogan-Zehavi and Dr. Noe David Michael said, “This discovery is like a welcome for Christian pilgrims arriving by ship to Gaza port.” “These pilgrims made their first inland stop at this Church of Relief before moving on to other important Christian sites across the country.”

The church is located near an ancient Roman road linking the Mediterranean port of Gaza to Beer-Sheva, the main city in the Negev. The presence of the church suggests that Rahat was a waypoint for pilgrims traveling to Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the monasteries of the Negev and Sinai.

“This site provides a vivid snapshot of settlement patterns in the northern Negev during the transition from the Byzantine to the Early Islamic periods,” the excavation directors said.

According to Professor Deborah Sewickel of the University of Haifa, the ship paintings adorning the walls reveal the travel habits and maritime life of early Christian pilgrims.

“One of the ships painted on the church walls is depicted as a sketch, but it can still be seen that its bow is slightly pointed and that there are oars on either side of the ship. This may be an aerial depiction of the ship , Sewickel said, although it seems likely that the artist was attempting a three-dimensional depiction. “Ships or crosses left by Christian pilgrims as evidence of their journey are also found in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. “

Another picture shows a two-masted ship. There are no sails on the main mast, but a small flag is visible in its upper part. The foremast is slightly inclined towards the bow and has a sail known as an artemon, indicating the artist's familiarity with marine life. However, the picture was found upside down.

“The person who placed the stone during construction either didn't know it was painted or didn't care,” Cvikel said.

With a population of more than 79,000, Rahat is the largest Bedouin city in the world. The excavations, which have been going on for several years, aim to integrate the historical heritage with modern development.

The newly discovered church walls along with other archaeological discoveries will be presented to the public on June 6 at the Rahat Nagar Cultural Hall.

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