Archaeologists have discovered a 1,500-year-old church in Israel with a Greek inscription dedicating it to an unnamed “Glorious Martyr.”
The site, located in the town of Beit Shemesh, about 29 miles outside of Jerusalem, appears in the Old Testament as the location of the ark of the covenant when the Philistines returned it to Israel (1 Samuel 6).
Floor mosaics intricately designed with leaves, fruit, and birds, walls with colorful paintings, and large decorative pillars adorn the church, which spreads over about one-third of an acre.
Built basilica-style, the church contained an elongated section divided by two rows of columns that split it into one nave flanked by two halls. Archaeologists also found a cross-shaped stone baptismal font in one of the rooms. The church had a spacious courtyard just outside the entrance.
Workers built the church in A.D. 543 during the reign of Emperor Justinian. An inscription at the site indicates that a few years later Emperor Tiberius II Constantine financed the expansion of the church and the addition of a chapel. The image of a large eagle with outspread wings, a symbol of the Byzantine Empire, in one of the mosaics suggests imperial involvement in the expansion. —J.B.