An archaeological team readying the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem for the restoration of its pavement stones has found construction remains dating to the period of Roman Emperor Constantine. The excavations have been ongoing since March, part of a two-year long restoration project. Beatrice Brancazi and Stefano De Togni, two Italian members of the archaeological team, from the Sapienza University of Rome antiquities department, presented the finds to the leaders of the community affiliated with the church.
Professor Francesca Romana Stasolla, who led the work, announced the discovery to the public. “The rock layers of the quarry have been found,” Stasolla said in a press release, issued by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land priory. “The operations of the Constantinian construction site had as their primary requirement that of bridging such unevenness of elevation to create a unitary and homogeneous plan to build the structures of the church and its annexes.”
Romana said that the team analyzed the construction methods of the ancient Constantinian era complex and unearthed mosaic tiles that were likely from floor pavements. The team’s discovery confirms the tradition that the sacred church was built on top of a stone quarry that dominated the area up until the first century B.C., more than 2,000 years ago. Traces from this era are still visible in the oldest chapels that lie below the current church structure.
Emperor Constantine made Christianity the dominant religion of the Holy Roman Empire. In 326 A.D., Constantine ordered the construction of a church on top of former Emperor Hadrian’s temple to Jupiter on Capitoline Hill. Hadrian’s anti-Jewish policy extended to Jerusalem, where he sought to plant a Roman colony and to rename Jerusalem “Aelia Capitolina,” after the temple.
In addition to the Constantine era remains, the archaeological team discovered trenches dug in the 1960s by Virginio Canio Corbo, an archaeology professor and Italian Franciscan friar, who excavated many important religious sites in the Holy Land. Corbo’s name is associated with excavations of the “Shepherds’ Field” close to Bethlehem, the ancient city of Magdala in the Galilee and a candidate for the place of Ascension on the Mount of Olives. Corbo died in Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in 1991.
In March, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of the oldest Christian prayer house in the world, located at the current Megiddo Prison in northern Israel. Megiddo is traditionally known as the place of Armageddon. “This structure is interpreted as the oldest Christian prayer house in the world … and, in fact, it tells the story of Christianity even before it became official,” wrote the IAA on social media. “We have here archaeological evidence of an early Christian community, whose members also included Roman army officers, from a period prior to the recognition of Christianity as a religion and years before it became the official religion of the empire,” wrote Israeli archaeologist Dr. Yotam Tepper, from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at Haifa University.