Found: The Church of the Glorious Martyr


Eagle, symbol of the Byzantine Empire. Photo: Assaf Peretz, Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Biblical Archeology Review has reported the discovery of a 1500-year-old church about 15 miles southwest of Jerusalem. It began as a simple chapel, built inside a cave where a saint was martyred (a “martyrium”) and buried. Archeologists found a large mosaic set in the floor of the courtyard that says it is dedicated to a “Glorious Martyr,” but unfortunately have not found the saint’s name.

The martyrium dates to the fifth century, and was expanded into a large church complex during the reign of Emperor St. Justinian, in the mid-sixth century. It was expanded again in the late sixth century, with funding from the Emperor Flavius Tiberius (AD 520-582).

All this expansion (the huge courtyard measured 43′ x 51′) was undertaken in order to accommodate large masses of pilgrims. The article says, “Over time, pilgrim routes became standardized, with pilgrims routinely referencing the same or similar routes in their accounts.”

There are suggestions that this martyr was named Zechariah, but we don’t know which one. A 6th c pilgrim’s account says that this Zechariah was both killed and buried on the site, ruling out the 3 Zechariahs of the Bible. An 8th c pilgrim says he was disappointed that the Zechariah honored here was not the same one as the father of John the Baptist.

They’ve created a great app that allows you to view the site from the perspective of an archeologist–allowing you to see how it looks today, with a button that will switch it to how it looked in its prime.

(BTW, for some reason the app works on Firefox but not on Chrome, for me.)

Here’s the web page for the Church of the “Glorious Martyr” and its Facebook page. What an interesting find to follow, as the work of archeology continues.

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.


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