Saint NameGeorge, soldier and martyr of Diospolis/Lydda : S00259
Sergios, soldier and martyr of Rusafa : S00023
Saint Name in SourceΓεόργιος
Image Caption 1Inscription 1. From: Di Segni 1990, 379.
Image Caption 2Drawing of Inscription 1. From: Di Segni 1990, 380.
Image Caption 3Inscription 2. From: Di Segni 1990, 384.
Image Caption 4Drawing of Inscription 2. From: Di Segni 1990, 384.
Image Caption 5Reliquary pit in the southern apse. From: Di Segni 1990, 381.
Image Caption 6Plan of the church. From: Aviam 2004, 211.
Image Caption 7Inscription from the reliquary pit in the southern apse, after most recent restoration. Kindly shared with us by Jacob Aviam and Mordechai Ashkenazi.
Type of EvidenceArchaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Archaeological and architectural - Altars with relics
Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Evidence not before519
Evidence not after519
Activity not before519
Activity not after519
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Palestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcDiokaisareia in Palestine
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Diokaisareia in Palestine
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPrayer/supplication/invocation
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - lesser clergy
Other lay individuals/ people
SourceThe floor mosaics were found in the church at Ḥorvat Ḥesheq, a three-aisled basilica with presumably three apses.
The church was partially hewn into a rock-face, and built on the second floor of a stone complex, recorded by western surveyors already in the second half of the 19th c. (Guérin, 1880; Conder & Kitchener, 1881). Newer surveys were conducted by Rafael Frankel in the 1970s, and based on these the complex was at first ascribed to the Crusader period; but a closer examination allowed scholars to place its construction in Late Antiquity, and to identify the church on its second story. The church was excavated by Mordechai Aviam between 1985 and 1987. The excavations were recently renewed by Jacob Ashkenazi and Mordechai Aviam, under the auspices of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology, and a new report will follow soon.
Although early Roman spolia, including a fragmentary Latin dedication to Iovis Optimus Maximus, were found in the church, the site is believed to have been an entirely Christian construction, not a converted Roman building.
A total of five mosaic inscriptions were found in the church. The two which we reproduce here contained invocations of saints. Others recorded names of donors, a dating formula, and a biblical quotation (Psalm 86(87).2: 'The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling-places of Jacob'.)
The inscriptions were first published by Leah Di Segni in 1990. These texts were later reprinted in the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum and re-published with virtually no changes by Leah Di Segni in 1993. The cleaning of the mosaics during the most recent work at the site resulted in several altered readings, compared with the editio princeps. These will be published by Jacob Ashkenazi and Mordechai Aviam in the report of the present excavations.
DiscussionWe have here an interesting case of contemporary dedications to two different saints in the same church. Both George and Sergios, were very popular in the East and both were soldiers and martyrs in the hagiographical tradition. Importantly, the son of the founder bears the name Georgios, the same as one of the patron saints. Hence, we can suppose that the selection of George as the principal dedicatee could have been dictated by a peculiar devotion of the family to that holy figure.
Inscription 1 was placed in front of the chancel screen, a very prestigious place in the church, and for this reason Di Segni supposes that the entire shrine was dedicated to George. A reliquary pit was found in the middle of the chancel, beneath the altar. Is, therefore, possible that some relics of George were deposited there. Next to the reliquary pit there was another mosaic inscription, recording a vow for the salvation of Demetrios and his son Georgios, and for the repose of Somas, father of Demetrios, and of Demetrios and Theodora (according to Di Segni, the deceased children of Demetrios). For similarly placed inscriptions, which personify the presence of donors close to holy relics, see E02966 (Khirbet Beit Sila in Samaria) and E03562 (Ḥorvat Be’er-Shema in the northwest Negev).
As Inscription 2 (= Inscription 4 on the plan of the church) was located at the entrance to the south chamber, Di Segni presumes that this room was dedicated to the cult of Sergios, and that another reliquary was installed there. This supposition seems correct to us, as in near-eastern churches martyrs were often venerated in rooms flanking the central apse. One might wonder whether the placing of his cult in a side apse could imply that Sergios was considered by the donors to be a saint slightly inferior to George.
Dating: The date of the construction of the church can be established thanks to yet another mosaic panel, embedded in the floor of the nave (Di Segni 1990, no. 3 = SEG 40, 1446). It mentions both Demetrios and his son Georgios, and says that the work was completed 'in the month of April, of the year 582 (of a local era), 12th indiction' (ἐτελ(ε)ιώθη τὸ πᾶν ἔργω(ν) ἐν μη(νὶ) Ἀπριλίου τοῦ πβφʹ ἔτους ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ιβ΄). Di Segni considers several possibilities, but notes that only in the case of the Pompeian era beginning in 64/63 BC, would the year 582 coincide with the 12th indicton year. Hence, the date can be plausibly computed as April AD 519.
In addition, Aviam and Ashkenazi provided us with a new reading of a mosaic inscription placed immediately before the reliquary in the south apse (published as Di Segni 1990, no. 2), where they suggest the relics of St Sergios were kept. A recent cleaning and restoration work done on this mosaic allowed the excavators to uncover its lower right-hand corner. There the noun πάπποι ('grandparents') is now clearly visible (and perfectly coherent with the contents), whereas Di Segni read τέκνοι ('children'). Hence the inscription should no longer be interpreted as a vow for the repose of prematurely deceased son and daughter of the benefactor:
+ ὑπὲρ σωτηρίας Δημητρίου διακ(όνου)
(καὶ) Γεοργίου υἱoῦ (καὶ) ἀναπαύσεος Σόμαδ(ος)
πατρὸς (καὶ) Δημητρίου (καὶ) Θεοδώρας πάπων
3. πάπων Aviam & Ashkenazi (forthcoming), τ(έκν)ων Di Segni
'For the salvation of Demetrius, the Deacon and of George his son and for the rest of Somas his father and of Demetrius and Theodora his grandparents.'
Text: Di Segni 1990, no. 2, modified; see also a photograph which we attach here. Translation: M. Aviam, J. Ashkenazi - from their forthcoming report on the site.
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