Israeli archaeologists uncover 'oldest church'
Israeli archaeologists have uncovered near a prison what they believe could be the oldest church ever found in the Holy Land - a discovery that experts say may shed new light on early Christianity.
Ecumenical News International reports that the structure was discovered in Megiddo, lower Galilee, near a site traditionally believed to be the Armageddon described in the New Testament's Book of Revelation, where the final battle between good and evil is prophesied to occur.
Dating back to around the third century, the church was discovered during an archaeological dig in the grounds of the Megiddo Prison where Israel jails hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners along with ordinary convicts. Inmates detailed to work on an excavation discovered it.
The small, rectangular building lacks the characteristics of later churches. But it contains mosaics said to be breathtaking including one of a fish design. It also contains a Greek inscription that mentions a woman called Ekeptos who "donated this table to the God Jesus Christ in commemoration".
"It's a historic discovery that serves as confirmation to Christians all over the world," Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's envoy to the Holy Land, told Israeli television.
It appears that a table rather than an altar stood at the centre of the church at which a sacred meal was held to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus. Researchers said the apparent use of a table sheds new light on early Christian rituals. "This is a unique and important structure that expands our understanding of the early period of Christianity as a recognised and official religion," said Jotham Tefer, who supervised the excavation.
Israeli archaeologists uncover 'oldest church' in Holy Land at prison (Ecumenical News International 8/11/05)
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Holy Land Archeologists uncover what may be earliest church in world, Vatican hails as 'great discovery' (Catholic News Agency 8/11/05)
Israeli archaeologists uncover 'oldest church' in Holy Land at prison (Ecumenical News International 7/11/05)
Holy Land's 'oldest church' found at Armageddon (The Guardian 7/11/05)
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9 Nov 2005