GPS coordinates: 32.95251, 35.27121
Coordinates are only approximate
The overall length (west to east) of the building measures 21 m and its width is 16 m. The construction is a combination of ashlars on the facade and part of the interior, and a mixture of mortar and small stones. In the south wall of the structure, two entrances can be observed. The eastern one once possessed a stone door since the pivot sockets are still visible in the threshold and lintel, in addition to the bolt socket in the jamb. From the doorway one descends to a small rectangular room measuring 3 X 2.5 m, with a barrel-vaulted ceiling impressively built of well-dressed ashlars. Directly opposite the entrance is a wall of natural rock which forms the north wall of the room.
The second entrance at the western end of the building led into a well-built water reservoir whose dimensions were 10 x 3 x 3 m. The walls and ceiling are coated with two thick layers of impervious plaster. The undercoat was mixed with sherds dated to the Byzantine period. The reservoir ceiling is built of long stone slabs (average length of 1.3 m) laid above a series of seven stone arches spanning the reservoir walls. Water was drawn up through an opening in the ceiling between the second and third arches.
The building abuts a natural terraced rockface (perhaps partly hewn), as seen at the north walls of the vaulted room and the reservoir. Thus, direct access to the upper story of the building was from the north, whereas the ‘ south wall stands 4.5 m above ground level. A small church, with all the characteristic elements, was built as a second floor:
The atrium is located directly above the reservoir. On the east side, two stone columns were discovered in situ, and were probably part of the colonnade which encircled the atrium. The atrium was not paved and was devoid of any mosaic.
Between the columns and the wall with the two entrances is a narrow corridor, approximately 2 m in width, which apparently served as the building’s western entrance. Here the lintels of all three entrances were found. The lintel of the north entrance was found in situ. A cross is engraved in its center, with a deep hole in the middle, indicating that at one time a metal cross had been attached there. To the right of the cross were three holes for affixing an object with metal nails; and indeed, in one of the holes were the remains of an iron nail. There were also two holes on its left side. Apparently, the metal Greek letters alpha and omega had been attached on either side of the cross. The lintel of the middle entrance was broken into three pieces. Here, too, was a place in the center for attaching a cross. The southern lintel, also fragmented, was found with an engraved cross and holes on both sides for affixing metal letters. Another entrance leads from the narthex, north of the three entrances, to a long narrow hall connected on the north to the church.
The church is 11 m long x 8.5 m wide; it is divided into a nave and two aisles. The division is effected by two rows of three columns and two pilasters, the latter being located at the beginning and end of each row. Voussoirs of the arcades or the columns were also discovered. The columns and arcades supported the galleries above them.
The bema and apses are the best-preserved element of the church, rising to a height of 6.5 m above ground level and 3.5 m above the debris inside the church. Both the interior and exterior were constructed of ashlars with a fill of mortar and small stones. The upper segment of the wall of the apses was preserved to the height of one course above the decorated cornice, which in effect marks the division between the main floor and the galleries. To the south of the central apse was a small niche which had been observed by the first surveyors.
Because of the obvious symmetry, it is possible to reconstruct a similar small apse to the north, which probably still lies beneath the pile of debris.
Four Greek inscriptions were discovered on the floor mosaic of the aisle. The first and largest of them is at the foot of the chancel; the second at the main entrance to the church; the third at the entrance to the south apse; and the fourth at the southern entrance. On the mosaic floor of the nave, several artifacts were discovered – a small reliquary, 30 x 20 cm, and nearby a fragment of sculptured marble, perhaps part of a large flat dish. Also found were a bronze mounting of an overhead lamp, with the glass handles still attached, and many pottery sherds.
The bema is elevated 40 cm above the mosaic floor and has a single dressed-stone step leading up to it. The front of the bema is built of dressed ashlars with grooves for the insertion of chancel screen panels and recesses for the chancel screen posts. The screen is made of white marble panels with a wreath decoration whereas the chancel posts are hard limestone. At the back of each chancel screen panel there are four square recesses for inserting the legs of a small table which perhaps had a liturgic function. The two front legs of each table were inserted in the stones of the chancel base while the rear legs stood in the mosaic floor. Only half of the southern table was found, while the northern table was located intact on top of the mosaic floor of the bema.
The altar was installed above a large rectangular block (0.9 X 0.5 m) made of limestone, which was not placed at the perimeter of the apse, as customary, but within it. In the middle of the block on which the altar is installed, there is a hole, a place for a reliquary. The mosaic floor of the apse was completely missing while the stone itself had sunken somewhat beneath the floor level of the chancel.
The entire southern apse was revealed. The floor of this niche is approximately 15 cm higher than that of the south aisle and covered by thin marble panels. At the center of the apse, the four sculptured limestone leg-supports of an altar were discovered. The altar was positioned above a reliquary sunk in the floor. The reliquary measures 35 X 30 cm and has a marble lid with a hole in the middle. Also found in this area were additional square chancel screen posts and decorated limestone panels. Preserved in the south wall of the apse is a small aperture, 30 cm high and approximately 10 cm wide.
The columns of the first floor, three in each row, rose to a height of 3 m, including the capitals, and stood on low bases without pedestals. The only capital found on the first floor is Corinthian sculpted with free-flowing style petals in bas-relief. The height of the second-floor columns was 2.3 m, including the capitals which are of the flat Corinthian type with only four petals – one in each corner.
Found near the altar were segments of small columns (18 cm in diameter) as well as three corresponding capitals which are also of the flat Corinthian four-petaled type. All the lower column segments bear an engraved cruciform recess for holding a metal cross. In one case, however, a bottom end segment features three incised bands like those on the leg-supports of the altar in the south apse. Apparently, the column-bases were inserted into the floor. The number of columns and their dimensions suggest that they belonged to a ciborium. The liturgical tables had marble column-like leg-supports, of which four capitals were found; the principal decorative element is the ovolo in the center flanked by a simple floral pattern.
Excavations to date have uncovered three reliquaries: in the central apse, in the south apse and a “portable” reliquary discovered in the nave. The reliquary of the central apse was located within the apse. It is made from worked hard local limestone. Most of the stone was roughly dressed and can be assumed to have been placed beneath the floor level of the apse, so that only the top 15 cm, which had been carefully dressed, protruded above the floor. Two square holes measuring approximately 10 x 10 cm are incised in the north side of the stone, and it may be assumed that another two were located on the south side. The holes were designed to hold the marble leg-supports of the main altar. A shallow recess takes up most of the area of the stone, leaving edges measuring only approximately 15 cm along the narrow sides and 35 cm along the long ones. Around the recess are small perforations made for attaching bronze clasps to fasten the lid. In the middle of the recess, there is a carved square hole measuring 20 x 20 cm, in which the holy object was apparently placed.
The reliquary of the south apse was sunk in the floor. It is 30 cm long, 25 cm wide and 15 cm deep. It was covered with a lid of low-grade yellowish crystalline marble. In the center of the lid is a 5-mm-diameter hole for pouring oil, and small round holes have been bored on all four of its sides with corresponding holes around the top edges of the reliquary. Lead was poured into these holes and pointed bronze pegs were then inserted into the lid to secure it. When the apse was discovered, the clasps of the reliquary were still attached but open. The marble lid was also in place, though broken into two parts, probably in ancient times, and the reliquary was found empty.
The “portable” reliquary box was discovered on top of the mosaic in the center of the nave. It is made of limestone and measures 27 x 17 x 12 cm; it is cracked in several places because of fire which changed the color of the stone to gray. There are grooved tracks near the top of the box for sliding in a lid. Near the bottom of the box there is a small bronze spout, 1.2 cm in diameter and 3 cm long. Apparently the lid, which was not found, had a hole into which oil was poured; later the oil was drained through the spout into small receptacles held by congregation members. On one side of the reliquary, a carelessly executed cross is engraved within a circle, 6 cm in diameter.
The panels of the gallery banisters are a series of medium-hard local limestone panels, measuring 80 x 60 cm and 9 mm in thickness. They were found throughout the debris from the south entrance to the south apse, in the northeast section of the nave and at the north entrance. Since the chancel screen panels are made of marble and a fragment was indeed found in situ, it is most probable that the limestone panels were not connected with the chancel screen opposite the bema. Their distribution throughout the debris, like that of the square pillars, indicates that these are the banister panels of the galleries.
As mentioned above a fragment of a marble panel of the chancel screen was discovered in situ, fitted into its chiseled groove in the chancel facade. The top of the panel is approximately 5 cm wide and features an engraved cross for inserting a metal counterpart. The other parts of the panel are approximately 3 cm thick. The front side pattern is composed of a circular wreath of three rows of leaves. In the center of the wreath there is a stylized plant-like cross.
The mosaics at Horvat Hesheq are reasonably well preserved in the nave and south side of the church. In four Greek inscriptions discovered in the church, the names of Demetrius, the deacon, and his son Georgius are mentioned. The main inscription, which is also the largest, is connected with the dedication of the church to St. George (Georgius). It is located exactly above the hewn rock of the vaulted chamber and perhaps suggests that the person buried there was the reason for building the church.
In our opinion, the church at I:Iorvat Hesheq was built as a family memorial and was in some way connected with the vaulted burial chamber beneath the center apse. Perhaps even before the construction of the church, there had been a tomb or sarcophagus in the vicinity. The well-dressed natural rock of the north wall of the burial chamber supports such a hypothesis. One gains the impression that the reliquary in the central apse was roughly fashioned to create the impression that it was part of the natural rock (or perhaps was even hewn out of the wall of the vaulted chamber).
Mordechai Aviam, “Horvat Hesheq — a Unique Church in Upper Galilee: Preliminary Report,”54-63.
From the excavations of numerous churches in the Galilee region, we learn that nearly all were destroyed within the short period of time between the Persian invasion in 614 C.E. and the Arab conquest around 637. It may, therefore, be correct to assume that the greatest damage inflicted on the Christian villages occurred during the Persian invasion. This was also evident from the results of the archaeological survey of Western Upper Galilee where material dating from the Early Arab period was meager. From the remains at I:Iorvat I:Iesheq, it appears that the church was abandoned in an orderly fashion. The lid of the reliquary of the southern apse was found in place with the fastening clasps in an open position, but the reliquary itself was empty. It does not seem feasible that looters, after damaging the holy object, would have taken the time to return the lid to its proper place. Furthermore, the limited finds at the site show that it was vacated in an orderly manner.
The thin layer of earth covering the mosaic floor beneath the debris of the collapsed second floor bears witness that the church lay deserted for a short period. Later on, damage was inflicted especially on those panels with human or animal depictions. The ceiling beams were then set on fire, which ultimately caused their collapse.
Mordechai Aviam, “Horvat Hesheq — a Unique Church in Upper Galilee: Preliminary Report,”65
Aviam, Mordechai. “Horvat Hesheq — a Unique Church in Upper Galilee: Preliminary Report.” In Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land: New Discoveries. Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo, OFM, edited by Giovanni Claudio Bottini, Leah Di Segni, and Eugenio Alliata, 351–77. Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Collectio Maior 36. Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1990.
———. “Horvat Hesheq; a Church in Upper Galilee.” In Ancient Churches Revealed, edited by Yoram Tsafrir, 54–65. Jerusalem: Israel; Exploration Society, 1993.
- Tri-apsidal inscribed
- Altars in the side apses
- Relics and reliquaries
- side chapel
- Three west entrances
- One entrance from west to the gallery
- Protruding apse
- Entrances from the east on either side of the apse
- Π-shaped chancel
- Multiple entrances on all sides
- Ambo on the south
- Exterior chapel to the north
- Π-shaped chancel
- Inscribed mono-apsidal
- Room on both sides of the apse
- West entrance
- Ambo on south
- Baptistry in room south of the apse or in the south aisle
- Separate south chapel
- South entrances from side rooms/chapels
- Τ-shaped or bar-shaped chancel
- Tri-apsidal usually inscribed
- Altars in the side apses
- Relics and Reliquaries
- Ambo to the north
- Baptistry outside off the atrium or the north aisle
- Marble furnishings (high status imperial association) and imported fine wares
- Decorative elements on chancel screens [specify]
- Separate north chapel
Syrian to Roman conversion
- Τ-shaped or bar-shaped chancel replacing Π-shaped chancel
- Side apses inserted into rooms adjacent to the main apse
- Separate north chapel (suppressed south chapel)
- Liturgical furniture with decorative motifs like those at St. Clemente in Rome
- Altars in the side apses
- Relics and Reliquaries
Ambo to the north Baptistry outside off the atrium or the north aisle
- Marble furnishings (high status imperial association)
and imported fine wares
- Decorative elements on chancel screens: white marble panels with a wreath decoration. The front side pattern is composed of a circular wreath of three rows of leaves. In the center of the wreath there is a stylized plant-like cross.
Separate north chapel