A monastery for women, apparently constructed during the fifth century CE, was uncovered at
BUILDING A. Five phases were discerned in building A. During the first phase, of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century CE, the church was built (loci 100
During the second phase, dating to the fifth century CE, a monastery was established at the site. The entrance, through double doors, was on the southern side, adjacent to the southwestern corner of the structure. It was protected by a vaulted two-story tower: the lower story served as the entrance to the monastery and the upper was apparently a guard room. From the entrance (locus 140) one passed into the entrance hall (locus 115), paved with a crude mosaic in white, red, and black. To the east was a large room roofed with a double vault (loci 110, 119), apparently offices and the lodgings of the mother superior. From the entrance hall, which appears to have been roofed, one entered the church via a gate with monolithic doorposts. The floor of the church was paved in geometric mosaics. On the eastern side was an apse constructed of large stones; the apse served as a bema 0.5 m high and was separated from the rest of the hall by a marble chancel screen. An altar was constructed at the center of the apse. The small portion of the mosaic preserved in the apse seems to depict a seven-branched candelabrum and incense shovel. If this indeed was a menorah, then a Samaritan or Jewish tradition of sanctity is evidenced here, one that is unknown from other churches. From the church hall, near the chancel, was an entry to a room south of the apse (locus 102). This room was paved with a crude mosaic and appears to have been utilized for the storage of cultic vessels.
North of the church were the living quarters, entered via both the church hall and the entrance hall. In this complex was an entrance hall paved in white mosaic, with a dedicatory inscription within tabula ansata; three cells for seclusion, each with a door that could be easily locked; a two-story tower north of the apse that apparently also served as living quarters; and toilets draining into the wadi north of the monastery. No similar toilet installation has been found to date at any monastery in Israel. It recalls the toilets at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai and in the church on Mount Gerizim. A doorway led from the living quarters to a paved courtyard (locus 130) with a cistern in its center; the lintel of this doorway was decorated with a cross flanked by birds.
The third phase, of the sixth century CE, saw the floruit of the monastery and its population. Several changes were carried out in the complex. Many cells were added at the expense of corridors. The mosaic pavement in the apse and in the southeastern room (locus 102) was covered over in this phase by a mosaic of small white, black, gray, yellow, green, blue, orange, and purple tesserae. This mosaic belongs to Avi-Yonah’s J2 pattern and consists of a guilloche frame surrounding alternating round and square medallions, 54 in all, arranged in nine vertical and six horizontal rows. Each medallion is inhabited by depictions of flora or fauna, primarily birds and fruit. One of the medallions contains a dedicatory inscription in Greek, reading: “For the redemption of Kyriakos son of Yeshua, and his son the Deacon Yohannes.” Of the mosaic in the entrance hall, only small segments of the eastern side and a fraction of the southeastern corner were preserved. It is enclosed by two concentric guilloche frames, and depicts intricate compositions of what appear to be animals, plants, geometric patterns, and perhaps human figures. The mosaic incorporated colored glass alongside variegated tesserae.
Human and animal images on the mosaics were obliterated during the fourth phase, in the period of iconoclasm in the eighth century CE. This phase began toward the end of the Umayyad period, following the order of the Caliph Yazid II in 721 CE prohibiting the portrayal of human and animal images and ordering their removal from public places. The trend toward destruction of images spread throughout Christendom, under the influence of Islam, even to places under Byzantine rule. During the eighth century CE, the cult of icons and saints came to be viewed as a form of idol worship, and in contradiction to the worship of god. Many icons were burned and mosaics bearing such images were damaged. Crude mosaic or plaster patches were used to repair the mosaics of this monastery. An inscription containing a blessing for the mother superior of the monastery was incorporated into the mosaic repairs in the hall of the church. It provides evidence that the complex was a nunnery.
During the fifth phase, which began at the end of the ninth century CE, the monastery was abandoned, its roofing dismantled, its mosaics robbed, and its remains utilized as a cemetery for girls, apparently Muslims, from the neighboring villages. Such burials within the remains of the monastery continued through the medieval period and attest to the preservation of a tradition of female virginal sanctity at the site.
BUILDING B. Building B appears to have been constructed during the second building phase. It was an integral part of the monastery complex. In its eastern portion (locus 202) was a kitchen where fireplaces and numerous cooking vessels were uncovered. Found nearby was a long narrow room (locus 205) paved in stone slabs; it appears to have served as a refectory. The two northern rooms of the structure may have functioned as a hostel for pilgrims. Beneath the kitchen was an opening to a large cave, mostly lying under the courtyard between the two buildings but extending partly below building B. This cave was used for the cold storage of food products and of the olives and grapes cultivated in plots around the monastery.
CISTERNS. The easternmost of the three cisterns hewn at the monastery is located east of room 102 (locus 127). It is bell shaped and coated in hydraulic plaster. This cistern held water drained from the eastern part of building B and the southern part of building A. The water flowed via channels and drains into a large settling pit, then into another smaller settling pit before reaching the cistern. The second cistern, also with settling pit, is in the northern, back courtyard of the monastery (locus 131). The third was hewn west of the monastery and collected water drained from the atrium, the narthex, and most of the area of building B. It was slightly damaged during modern construction and only its capstone was found, out of context.
SMALL FINDS. Among the small finds in the excavation were a few coins, simple pottery, a medallion, small glass bottles, and a large number of pottery lamps. Also discovered were decorated marble fragments, including the column legs of an altar table or an ambo, portions of a chancel screen, a fragment of a baptismal font decorated with acanthus leaves, a fragment of a marble cyborium pillar with an embedded bronze cross, and a small bronze funnel for filling clay oil lamps. In the crypt were found a cruciform bronze pendant; and in the girls’ tombs of the medieval period were discovered metal and glass bracelets and numerous beads.
NAME AND SACRED TRADITION
The name of this nunnery is not known, however it is probable that the present site name, Khirbet el-Burj el-Haniyeh, is indicative of the ancient name, which in turn suggests that it was named after St. Anne (Haniyeh in Arabic). In ancient Christianity, two women named Anne were sanctified. One was the mother of Jesus’ mother Mary and the wife of Joachim. The traditions concerning this Anne are nearly all connected with the Galilee, Nazareth, and Sepphoris. It is thus difficult to presume that these would have been transferred to the Samarian Shephelah. (These traditions are found in the Proto-Gospel of James, which was not included in the New Testament.) The second possibility is Anne, daughter of Penuel, a prophetess in the Temple at the beginning of the Christian era. According to the New Testament (Lk. 2:36–38), she was widowed at age 89 and lived many years in the Temple after her husband died. There, while Jesus was still a boy, she prophesied that he would be Israel’s salvation. It was to this prophetess Anne that local tradition probably connected the arcosolia cave, resulting in pilgrimage, primarily by women, to the women’s monastery constructed above the tomb sanctified as her burial place. A third possibility is that there was a local tradition concerning a less widely known holy woman and that pilgrimage to her tomb was of local nature. The archaeological finds indicate that pilgrims would have received a pottery lamp upon entering the monastery. They then would have prayed in the church, and later descended to the tomb. Upon leaving the tomb, the lit lamp would have been left at the edge of the apse, as attested by the many oil lamps found there. The sacredness of the site was preserved for many years following the abandonment and destruction of the monastery, as indicated by the burials of girls in the monastery’s ruins.
UZI DAHARI, YEHIEL ZELINGER
A monastery for women, apparently constructed during the fifth century CE, was uncovered at