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E04631: Procopius of Caesarea, in his On Buildings, reports that the emperor Justinian (r. 527-565) dedicated a magnificent shrine, the Nea Ekklesia, to *Mary Theotokos, Mother of God (S00033) in Jerusalem. Written in Greek at Constantinople, in the 550s.

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posted on 16.01.2018, 00:00 by julia
Procopius, On Buildings, 5.6.1-26


In this passage (§§ 1-15) Procopius describes the church (hieron) of Mary, known as the 'New Church' (nea ekklesia), built by the emperor Justinian (r. 527-565) in Jerusalem, which the author claims was incomparable with any other. Procopius presents the building of this church as a particular challenge because of the steep hilly topography of the city, requiring a large part of the church to be supported on a huge substructure built of massive stone blocks.

Procopius then (§§ 16-22) enumerates other difficulties accompanying the work, one of them was solved by divine intervention. Such an enormous building needed to be supported by huge columns, but the site was very far from the sea and of difficult access, which did not allow for the bringing in of columns from outside. Then God revealed in a nearby mountains a natural supply of stone perfectly suited to this purpose, allowing the church to be supported by huge columns of the colour of fire.

Then (§§ 23-25) Procopius describes the surroundings of the church, including (§§ 25-26) two guest-chambers, of which one served for visiting strangers, and the other as a hospice for the poor and sick. Justinian endowed the church with a substantial income.

Text: Haury 1913. Summary: J. Doroszewska.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miraculous protection - of church and church property Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Saint aiding or preventing the construction of a cult building

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


Procopius of Caesarea, (c. 500 – c. 560/561 AD) was a soldier and historian from the Roman province of Palaestina Prima. He accompanied the Roman general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian (527-565). He wrote the Wars (or Histories), On Buildings and the Secret History. On Buildings is a panegyric in six books. It lists, and sometimes describes, the buildings erected or renovated by the emperor Justinian throughout the empire (only on Italy is there no information). The bulk of these are churches and shrines dedicated to various saints; the Buildings is therefore a very important text for the evidence it provides of the spread of saintly cults by the mid 6th c. On Buildings dates from the early 550s to c. 560/561; a terminus post quem is 550/551 as the text mentions the capture of Topirus in Thrace by the Slavs in 550 and describes the city walls of Chalkis in Syria built in 550/551; a probable terminus ante quem is 558 when the dome of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople collapsed, which is not mentioned in the book; or before 560 when the bridge on the river Sangarius was completed, as Procopius reports on the start of works. On Buildings thus belongs to the later years of Justinian’s reign. The work is not finished and is probably Procopius’ last work. It glorifies Justinian, depicting him as a great builder and an emperor restlessly transforming the state, expanding and reforming it, destroying paganism, extirpating heresy, and re-establishing the firm foundations of the Christian faith (Elsner 2007: 35). More on the text: Downey 1947; Elsner 2007; Greatrex 1994 and 2013. Overview of the text: Book 1. Constantinople and its suburbs Book 2. Frontier provinces of Mesopotamia and Syria. Book 3. Armenia, Tzanica, and the shores of the Black Sea. Book 4. Illyricum and Thrace (the Balkans). Book 5. Asia Minor, Syria, and Palestine. Book 6. North Africa, from Alexandria to central Algeria.


The church of Mary built by the emperor Justinian (r. 527-565) in Jerusalem, called the Nea Church, was consecrated in 543 and then destroyed during an earthquake in the 8th century (Avigad 1970, 138). The remains of the church were discovered in the southern part of the present-day Jewish Quarter, near the Temple platform and between the church of Zion and Tyropoion valley during archaeological excavations in 1970-1971. This location agrees with the position of a very large church, presumed to be the Nea, on the so-called Madaba Mosaic Map (Cameron 1985, 95; Avi-Jonah 1954, 57; E02524). The excavations confirmed Procopius' description of a large building on impressive substructures, used to create a level platform on very uneven ground. Some of the stone blocks of the substructure were indeed massive: some discovered in the base of the south-east corner of the church measure 1.45 x 1.10 x 1.05m and weigh around 4 tonnes, while others measure even more (2.32 x 1.20 x 1.28m) and weigh up to 8.5 tonnes (Tsafrir 2000, 154-156, fig. 6). N. Avigad (1980, 221-229) and Y. Tsafrir (2000, 157-162) identify the stone used for the church as from a quarry located to the north of the city, outside the gate of Saint Stephen (today the Damascus Gate).


Edition: Haury, J., Procopii Caesariensis opera omnia, vol. 4: Περι κτισματων libri VI sive de aedificiis (Leipzig: Teubner, 1962-64). Translations and Commentaries: Compagnoni, G.R., Procopio di Cesarea, Degli Edifici. Traduzione dal greco di G. Compagnoni (Milan: Tipi di Francesco Sonzogno, 1828). Dewing, H.B., Procopius, On Buildings. Translated into English by H.B. Dewing, vol. 7 (London: William Heinemann, New York: Macmillan, 1940). Grotowski, P.Ł., Prokopiusz z Cezarei, O Budowlach. Przełożył, wstępem, objaśnieniami i komentarzem opatrzył P.Ł. Grotowski (Warsaw: Proszynski i S-ka, 2006). Roques, D., Procope de Césarée. Constructions de Justinien Ier. Introduction, traduction, commentaire, cartes et index par D. Roques (Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2011). Veh, O., and Pülhorn, W. (eds.), Procopii opera. De Aedificiis. With a Commentary by W. Pülhorn (Munich: Heimeran, 1977). Further Reading: Avigad, N., “Excavations in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, 1970 (Second Preliminary Report),” Israel Exploration Journal 20:3/4 (1970), 129-140. Avi-Yonah, M., The Madaba Mosaic Map (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1954). Cameron, A., Procopius and the Sixth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985). Downey, G.A., “The Composition of Procopius’ ‘De Aedificiis,” Transactions of the American Philological Association 78 (1947), 171-183. Elsner, J., “The Rhetoric of Buildings in De Aedificiis of Procopius,” in: L. James (ed.), Art and Text in Byzantine Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 33-57. Feissel, D., “Les édifices de Justinien au témoignage de Procope et de l'épigraphie,” Antiquité Tardive 8 (2000), 81-104. Greatrex, G., “The Dates of Procopius’ Works,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 18 (1994), 101-14. Greatrex, G., “The Date of Procopius Buildings in the Light of Recent Scholarship,” Estudios bizantinos 1 (2013), 13-29. Krautheimer, R., and Ćurčić, S., Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. 4th ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986). Tsafrir, Y., "Procopius and the Nea Church in Jerusalem," Antiquité Tardive 8 (2008), 149-164.

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