Archive Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Courtesy Michele Piccirillo

Hagia Polis, Greek for “Holy City,” reads this detail of Jerusalem from a mosaic uncovered in 1986 on the floor of St. Stephen’s Church, in Um er-Rasas, Jordan. The mosaic dates to the eighth century and depicts churches in 17 cities in the Holy Land and 10 in the Nile Delta. At center, surrounded by the city wall and defensive towers, is the columned rotunda—incorporated as a part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—believed to mark the empty tomb of Christ.

A telling testament to Christian devotion to the Holy Land, this mosaic was installed nearly a century-and-a-half after the Muslim conquest. Even at this late date, Christians were not only maintaining their existing churches but were building new ones with elaborate artistic mosaic floors. As movingly expressed by two sixth-century monks, “We the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as it were, touch with our own hands the truth through these holy places in which the mystery of the incarnation of our great God and savior took place.”