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1,500-year-old Byzantine church bearing Christogram discovered in Israel

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 24th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A Christogram surrounded by birds has been discovered by archaeologists in Israel on the floor of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church. Researchers suspect it also served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities as it was next to the main road running between the ancient seaport city of Ashkelon in the west and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem in the east.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - First discovered during a salvage excavation ahead of a construction project in Aluma, which is a village about 30 miles south of Tel Aviv, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced this week. The team used an industrial digger to probe a mound at the site, and through a 10-foot hole, where they could view the white tiles of the ancient mosaic, excavator Davida Eisenberg Degen said.

The majority of the church was revealed during excavations over the past month. The basilica was part of a local Byzantine settlement.

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"Usually a Byzantine village had a church, but the size of this church and its placement on the road makes it more important," Degen said.

One of the most remarkable finds so far was a mosaic containing a Christogram, or a "type of monogram of the name of Jesus," Degen said.

Byzantine Christians at this time wouldn't have put crosses on their mosaic floors so as to not step on the symbol of Christ, Degen explained. The Christogram in the mosaic may look like a cross, but it's actually more like a "chi rho" symbol, which puts together the first two capital letters in the Greek word for Christ, which resembles an X superimposed on a P.

There is also an alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet on either side of the chi rho, which is another Christian symbol. Christ was often described as the "the beginning and the end." Four birds also decorate the mosaic, two of which are holding up a wreath to the top of the chi rho.

Inside the 72-by-39-foot basilica, archaeologists also found marble pillars and an open courtyard paved with a white mosaic floor, Daniel Varga, director of the IAA's excavations says.

In the church's narthex, or lobby area, there is "a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs" as well as a "twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names 'Mary' and 'Jesus', and the name of the person who funded the mosaic's construction," Varga said in a statement.

The mosaics in the main hall are decorated with vine tendrils in the shape of 40 medallions, one of which contains the Christogram. Many of the other medallions contain botanical designs and animals such as a zebras, peacocks, leopards and wild boars, the excavators said.

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