James Whitred

Four granite columns still stand before the apse of the Santa Maria Viridis—Saint Mary the Green—church. The structure stood from about 400 to about 1191 A.D. A fresco of four saints can still be seen in the apse (see closeup). Behind the apse rises masonry from Ashkelon’s eastern fortification wall, destroyed in 1191.

The “Green” in the church’s name may be an indication that Saint Mary was considered by the Christians of Ashkelon to be the saint of the city’s abundant crops. The term may also refer to a sporting faction, rivals of the Blues throughout the Byzantine world. Charioteers from many localities vied to compete in the “World Championship” races in Constantinople; at these meets sports, religion and politics mixed. A victory by a team was often interpreted as a victory for its city’s deity or patron saint. A victory for the Greens of Ashkelon might have been seen as a victory for the Christians and Saint Mary the Green.