Archaeological excavations near Highway 1, at the entrance to Abu Ghosh, have uncovered a large Byzantine-period road station that included a church.
Initiated and funded by the National Roads Company, the excavations were conducted as the state company was upgrading and widening the highway that connects Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The site lies next to a seep spring known as Ein Naqa‘a, located on the outskirts of Moshav Bet Neqofa. The current excavation season uncovered a church measuring about 16 meters in length. The church includes a side chapel 6.5 meters long and 3.5 meters wide and a white mosaic floor.
A baptismal font (bapisterium) in the form of a four-leafed clover (symbolizing the Christian cross) was installed in the chapel’s northeast corner. Fragments of red-colored plaster found in the rubble strewn throughout the building showed that the church walls had been decorated with frescoes.
To the west of the church were rooms that were probably used as dwelling quarters and for storage. One of them contained a large quantity of pottery tiles. The excavations yielded numerous different finds, testifying to intensive activity at the site. These included oil lamps, coins, special glass vessels, marble fragments, and mother-of-pearl shells.
According to Annette Nagar, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “the road station and its church were built in the Byzantine period beside the ancient road leading 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.
“Included in the services provided along the route were churches, such as the one recently uncovered at the entrance to Abu Ghosh,” she explained. “Other churches have been recorded in the past in Abu Gosh, Qiryat Ye‘arim, and Emmaus. This 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.”
Pablo Betzer, the Israel Antiquities Authority’s district archaeologist for Yehuda, added, “The finds have been documented and we shall be studying them. A decision has been made with the National Roads Company to cover over the site and preserve it for future generations.”