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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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Chapter 1: Domestic artefacts in Early Christian churches


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Domestic artefacts in Early Christian churches

Our knowledge of any past civilization is based on records, be they written or monumental […] To the extent that written records become inadequate, monumental or archaeological evidence gains in importance. In this scheme of things the position of the Byzantine Empire is rather peculiar. At first glance, the volume of written material it has bequeathed to us appears very considerable. But then what is the nature of this material? […] these texts have a strange opaque quality; and the more elegant their diction, the more opaque they become […] They give us the external husk of public events; and we look in vain for the underlying realities of life […] For the historian of Byzantine civilization the limitations of this written material have serious implications. The only means of overcoming them lies, I believe, in the study of material remains, in other words archaeology. Alas, very little has been done in this respect.1

There has actually been a substantial amount of archaeological research relating to Byzantine sites, but as Cyril Mango observes archaeologists still have to overcome many of the limitations of the written record.2 Much of this archaeological research has been directed at topographical surveys or individual site excavations, but there has also been some systematic architectural and structural analysis of early Byzantine church sites in respect of liturgy.

← 1 | 2 → This book is in part a response to Mango’s challenge to archaeologists. I...

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