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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 3: What can church sites reveal about liturgy?


← 42 | 43 → CHAPTER 3

What can church sites reveal about liturgy?

The previous chapter outlined the method used to approach the research question. It was argued that it is possible that institutional activities associated with the Early Byzantine Church could be detected in the archaeological record using comparative analysis of repeated patterns of artefactual deposition across a catalogue of sites with the same basic plan.1 It has been further argued that the basilical church is the best and most appropriate focus of research into comparative analysis of repeated patterns of artefactual deposition. That is, not all basilical churches, but rather the three most common church plans in the Levant (figure 2.2) commonly described as (i) a monoapsidal basilica, (ii) a basilica with an inscribed apse with a room to either side of it, and (iii) a triapsidal basilica.2 These three church plans were initially referred to as Type I, Type II and Type III church plans.3

← 43 | 44 → Archaeological evidence for Early Byzantine basilical church plans

In practical terms there are differences between the three most common basilical church plans that have an effect upon the deposition of artefacts. For example, only the plan with the inscribed apse (figure 2.2) actually has a room either side of the apse in which artefacts can be deposited and so these need to be placed into a separate category so that they can be directly compared with other similar sites. Similarly triapsidal churches have side...

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