Grant and serene, the church of St. Étienne was built in 1887 by Dominican priests on the site of an earlier Byzantine basilica erected by the fifth century empress Eudocia. Tradition holds that St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, died here on this hillside opposite Jerusalem’s walled Old City.
In the 19th century, as the priests dug the foundation for the church and a surrounding fence, they discovered two underground burial caves and immediately launched archaeological excavations. The report of the Dominicans’ excavations stated that the tombs dated to the Roman period, sometime between the first century B.C. and the third century A.D. For nearly 100 years this dating went unchallenged, but recent investigations—reported in detail in this issue—argue for a much earlier date, in the eighth or seventh century B.C.