Saint NameSergios, soldier and martyr of Rusafa : S00023
George, soldier and martyr of Diospolis/Lydda : S00259
Saint Name in SourceΣέργιος
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Inscriptions - Inscribed architectural elements
Inscriptions - Graffiti
Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Evidence not before500
Evidence not after700
Activity not before500
Activity not after700
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcNessana
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Nessana
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPrayer/supplication/invocation
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesWomen
Other lay individuals/ people
SourceNessana/Auja Hafir was an important town (actually termed a kome/'village' in documents) in the southwest Negev desert, located on the caravan route from 'Aila/'Aqaba to Gaza, and the pilgrim route towards Sinai, and is sometimes identified with the site of the hostel (xenodochium) of Saint George, visited by the Piacenza Pilgrim (see E00507; for an alternative identification, see E02006).
The site was excavated by the Colt Expedition, led by Harris Dunscombe Colt, between 1935 and 1937, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Although the site had suffered serious damage during World War I, it soon yielded rich epigraphical evidence (more than 150 Greek and Nabataean inscriptions), and two invaluable collections of 6th-7th c. documentary and literary papyri, comprising several distinguishable archives. The first, smaller collection of papyri, was found in Room 3 of the South Church, the other in Room 8 of the North Church. It is thanks to these documents that the ancient name of the site - Nessana - was revealed.
The Colt Expedition excavated two churches. The 'North Church' on the acropolis, probably monastic and housing a martyr shrine, they dubbed the Church of *Sergios and Bakchos. It is now known as Church no. 1. It was the biggest sanctuary in the town, and the presence of numerous graffiti suggests that it was a popular shrine, while its papyri show that it had close relations with the monks of Mount Sinai. The inscriptions we present here, come from this establishment. The second church, excavated by Colt was the 'South Church', presumed to have been dedicated to *Mary, Mother of Christ. It is now termed Church no. 2. The Colt Expedition also mentions the 'East Church'/the 'Monastic Church', which is probably the one that had been explored by Woolley and Lawrence, now termed Church no. 3, and a local cemetery. Inscriptions of different kinds were found in all of these locations.
In 1987, Dan Urman resumed the archaeological exploration of the site on behalf of the Ben Gurion Univeristy of the Negev. His campaigns led to the discovery of three more churches in Nessana: the double church (= Church no. 4-5), and a small monastic chapel (= Church no. 6).
As for the history of epigraphical research, Auja Hafir had been surveyed by several scholars interested in inscriptions well before the Colt expedition. They were: the Dominican Father La Grange, the German military chaplain Father Hänsler, Theodore Wiegand and Albrecht Alt, and two more Dominicans, Fathers Abel and Tonneau. The epigraphic finds of the Colt Expedition were first published in 1962, in the first volume of Excavations at Nessana. The expedition's epigraphist, George Eden Kirk, who made the transcriptions in the field, was, however, unable to finish the edition due to his induction into military service. The draft was forwarded to, and revised by, C. Bradford Welles, who claimed responsibility for the final shape of the text. A small group of new fragmentary inscriptions, found by Urman's mission, were published by Pau Figueras in 2004. This collection, however, yields no new evidence for the cult of saints.
DiscussionThe editors do not say whether these inscriptions are visitors' graffiti, or carved inscriptions by donors offering to the sanctuary.
As suggested by the members of the Colt Expedition, the so-called 'North Church' comprises several buildings, the history of which can be accounted as follows:
A small church dedicated to Stephen and Sergios (the excavators deduced the names of the patron saints on the basis of Inscriptions 2 and 3 in E04333) was built at the site before 464 (for the date, see Inscription 1 in E04336), and at some point thia was termed a 'martyrion'.
Under the emperor Justinian, and probably with his aid, a large church was added to this establishment before 541, perhaps now dedicated to Sergios with his companion martyr Bakchos, but the old building ('martyrion') was still in use (see I. Nessana, nos. 24 and 25, the first of which is dated AD 584).
In 601, the baptistery and the north chapel were added to the Justinianic church (see I. Nessana, no. 17 which commemorates the completion of the baptistery). Other annexes probably date to the extension of 601 or are slightly later.
It is possible that the Justinianic re-building of the site was linked with the foundation of the Church of Sergios and Bakchos in Constantinople (EXXXX), an event which is said to have fostered the cult of Bakchos as Sergios' companion. The presumed introduction of the cult of Bakchos to Nessana did not, however, prove to be successful, as the saint is hardly ever invoked in visitors' inscriptions (see E04345).
Kirk, G.E., Bradford Welles, C., "The inscriptions", in: H.D. Colt, and others (eds.), Excavations at Nessana (Auja Hafir, Palestine), vol. 1 (London: British Schools of Archaeology in Jerusalem, 1962), nos. 21, 22.
Figueras, P., "Monks and monasteries in the Negev desert", Liber Annuus 45 (1995), 425-430.
Meimaris, Y., Sacred Names, Saints, Martyrs and Church Officials in the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Pertaining to the Christian Church of Palestine (Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation, Center for Greek and Roman Antiquity, 1986), 118, nos. 632-633; 124, no. 665.
Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 121-135.