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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 5: Other activities in Early Byzantine basilical churches


← 108 | 109 → CHAPTER 5

Other activities in Early Byzantine basilical churches

The catalogue of church sites has been compiled together with those artefacts thought to be deposited in sealed layers while these basilicas functioned as churches, or as they were abandoned.1 Domestic artefacts were deposited at fourteen church sites that are split equally between either a Syrian or Roman church plan.

The presence of these domestic artefacts (Table 5.1–5.3) in churches has received little attention, and yet their presence hints that activities other than mere performance of the liturgy occurred, at least at some Early Byzantine church sites. The nature of these artefacts suggests that food was brought into these churches and deposited, stored, distributed and possibly also consumed on site, i.e. communal meals were eaten in church. The presence of cooking pots is particularly problematical in that, although plates and bowls might possibly be used during liturgical performance, there is no reference to cooked food in this ceremony.

The aim of this chapter is to analyse these domestic artefacts for repeated patterns of deposition that might reflect institutional behaviour. Also to determine what artefacts are deposited and where, and together with what other artefacts. Then to consider some textual references to non-liturgical activities in Early Byzantine churches to determine whether these might account for the deposition of at least some of these domestic artefacts. This chapter will also consider whether the deposition of domestic artefacts coincides with the location of...

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