Workers widening Israel's main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have stumbled upon the remnants of a 1,500-year-old church, Israel officials said on Wednesday.
Located at the entrance to Abu Gosh, a village some eight miles west of Jerusalem, the church was part of a Byzantine period road station which provided spiritual and material refreshments to those traveling between Jerusalem and the coastal plain.
"Along this road, which was apparently already established in the Roman period, other settlements and road stations have previously been discovered that served those traveling the route in ancient times," Annette Nagar, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said.
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Measuring about 52 feet in length, the church featured a white mosaic floor and a side chapel 21 feet long and 11 feet wide.
A baptismal font in the form of a four-leafed clover, symbolizing the cross, was found in the chapel's northeast corner, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.
Fragments of red-colored plaster suggest the church walls had been decorated with frescoes.
Next to the church, the archaeologists found rooms that were probably used as dwelling quarters and for storage. One of them contained a large amount of pottery tiles.
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The site had a water source - the ‘Ain Naqa'a seep spring - and likely witnessed intense activity, as shown by numerous findings which include oil lamps, coins, special glass vessels, marble fragments and mother-of-pearl shells.
"The road station ceased to be used at the end of the Byzantine period, although the road beside which it was built was renewed and continued to be in use until modern times," Nagar said.
The road station and church remnants will soon disappear from view. Archaeologist Pablo Betzer said a decision was made "to cover over the site and preserve it for future generations."