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The Early Byzantine Christian Church

An Archaeological Re-assessment of Forty-Seven Early Byzantine Basilical Church Excavations Primarily in Israel and Jordan, and their Historical and Liturgical Context


Bernard Mulholland

The observation that domestic artefacts are often recovered during church excavations led to an archaeological re-assessment of forty-seven Early Byzantine basilical church excavations and their historical, gender and liturgical context. The excavations were restricted to the three most common basilical church plans to allow for like-for-like analysis between sites that share the same plan: monoapsidal, inscribed and triapsidal. These sites were later found to have two distinct sanctuary configurations, namely a Π-shaped sanctuary in front of the apse, or else a sanctuary that extended across both side aisles that often formed a characteristic T-shaped layout. Further analysis indicated that Π-shaped sanctuaries are found in two church plans: firstly a protruding monoapsidal plan that characteristically has a major entrance located to either side of the apse, which is also referred to as a ‘Constantinopolitan’ church plan; and secondly in the inscribed plan, which is also referred to as a ‘Syrian’ church plan. The T-shaped layout is characteristic of the triapsidal plan, but can also occur in a monoapsidal plan, and this is referred to as a ‘Roman’ church plan. Detailed analysis of inscriptions and patterns of artefactual deposition also revealed the probable location of the diakonikon where the rite of prothesis took place.
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In this book the object of study is institutional behaviour in the Early Byzantine Church in which ritualised activities occur with great frequency. The aim of the book was to examine a large sample of church sites to determine whether there might be evidence for repeated patterns of artefactual deposition in the archaeological record that could provide evidence for some of these activities. Chapter 2 establishes the method used, why artefactual evidence is restricted to those artefacts associated with the site when it functioned as a church, and re-arranged into their original context and stratigraphy to allow like-for-like comparative analysis across sites with a similar church plan.

The church sites were limited to the three most common basilical forms. However in Chapter 3 it is observed that evidence from post holes for the altar table and chancel screen posts, together with whole or fragmentary liturgical furniture, indicated that there are two distinct internal layouts that can affect artefactual deposition, i.e. a Π-shaped sanctuary in front of the apse, and also a T-shaped or bar-shaped sanctuary that extends across each of the side aisles. This observation led to three new groups of church sites: Constantinopolitan, Syrian and Roman. Detailed analysis of each group revealed further characteristics associated with each group. The same evidence identified a second focus of liturgical activity located in side chapels which is examined in Chapter 4, and further evidence from five inscriptions indicates that these side chapels functioned as diakonika.


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