A cross-regional initiative for the study of
monasticism in the late antique Near East
Excavated by Avraham Negev in the late 1950s, the South Church provides an important reference point for the team's assessment of the Dipinti Cave and Cave of the Saints. Based upon the various archaeological and epigraphic remains, this was a monastic church dedicated to the perpetuation of the martyr cult associated with the warrior saint, Theodore. Thus, we are able to link the evidence obtained for the veneration of Theodore in the Dipinti Cave and the Cave of the Saints to monastic activities centered in the South Church and begin to establish a regional topography of this martyr cult. As the plan below indicates, the South Church has a central apse flanked by two side chapels with smaller apses. On three sides of the colonnaded atrium, there are a number of buildings, including a tower. Two important gravestones and a doorjamb graffito aid in the interpretation of the church.
Adapted from A. Negev, The Greek Inscriptions from the Negev (1981), fig. 19
Main entrance into South Church from atrium. The arrows point to the decorated carved crosses on the doorjambs. Although they do not show up well in the photo, see below for detail image of the cross on the left doorjamb.
Click here to compare the similar, but more informal arrangement of the painted crosses in the front room of the Dipinti Cave.
Southwestern side of atrium, showing doorways into rooms. The presence of these rooms around the atrium is one architectural feature that supports the idea that there was a monastery connected to the South Church. The tower, part of which can be seen on the right side of the photo, is another characteristic feature of monastic compounds.
Southern aisle of South Church, looking towards southern side-chapel. Arrow points to burial of Zacharias, son of John, under floor of the aisle. His epitaph explicitly identifies the church as the Martyrium of Saint Theodore (text highlighted below)
Northern side-chapel with apse (left). Arrow points to receptacle at base of apse, presumably intended for a reliquary of Saint Theodore. A similar receptacle is found at the base of the apse in the southern-side chapel (detail image, below). During the his excavation of this chapel, Avraham Negev reported finding a limestone reliquary; the team is currently in the process of trying to locate it.
South Church from the nave. The two side-chapels played a key role in the maintenance of the martyr cult of Saint Theodore.
Gravestone of Zacharias, son of John
Narthex of South Church, looking north towards place in floor where gravestone of Erasinos had been placed (arrow). It was removed during Avaraham Negev's excavation. Erasinos is referred to as abbas (highlighted below)—a title often used in reference to monastic superiors.
Entrance to room off northern aisle of South Church. Arrows shows location of doorjamb graffito that mentions Saint Theodore. Much of the graffito has now faded away (detail photo, below), but it was recorded by Avraham Negev.