The Nea Church

The Nea Church

Remains of the Nea Church's apse

The Nea Church

The Madaba Map

General info

In the Madaba Map, a mosaic depicting Byzantine Jerusalem, a large church appears at the southern end of the Cardo.

Procopius, Emperor Justinian’s official court historian, describes the construction of a new church – the Nea Ekklesia of the Theotokos – in Jerusalem, which was inaugurated in 543 AD. He provides a detailed description of the church’s construction and plans, describing it as one of Justinian’s largest and most magnificent building projects.

On the southern slope of the Jewish Quarter, to the east of the where the southern end of the Cardo is estimated to have been and in the location where it should have stood according to the Madaba Map, remains of the Nea Church were indeed discovered.

History

When work began for the establishment of a garden in the southern section of the Jewish Quarter, remains of the Nea Church were discovered at great depths in a number of digging sites: in the Batei Mahse neighborhood, in Gan HaTekuma (literally “Garden Of Redemption” in Hebrew, a park inside the Jewish Quarter) and also outside the walls of the Old City. The impressive remains indicate the great size of the church.

A mental image of the size of the church can be formed based on the size of the apses (semicircular recesses in the front of the church building) that were excavated. Two small apses were discovered, one smaller than the other. One of the apses is beneath a residential building and visitors can come see it if they arrange to do so in advance. The second apses is at the edge of Gan HaTekuma, right next to Batei Mahse Street which descends from the center of the Jewish Quarter to the Prayer Plaza of the Western Wall.

The most impressive architectural remains of the Nea Church are the remains of its cistern – a unique architectural monument in Jerusalem. This water resevoir is divided into six vaulted halls, coated in plaster and supported by massive abutments. High on the southern wall, a Greek inscription was discovered. The inscription marks the construction of the Nea Church by Emperor Justinian and includes the date on which it was built. (The original inscription is on display in the Israel Museum.)

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