Pilgrimage to Byzantine Jerusalem: Recent Archaeological Discoveries

An abundance of fascinating material finds related to the Byzantine Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem was obtained in the last decades, mainly in the salvage excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority, prompted by intense development in the city. The finds include previously unknown or insufficiently studied monastic complexes supplied with various facilities for pilgrims’ comfort. They shed a new light on the practical side of the pilgrimage, namely pilgrims’ hospices, located both within the Holy City and outside of it along the main roads leading to Jerusalem, and their wide range of services – from water facilities and bathhouses to the funeral arrangements. The formation of Christian Jerusalem appears to be a long and multi-staged process that significantly changed the appearance of the city, its main arteria, and its focal points. The pilgrims’ hospices and ceremonial routes were key in the development of this Christian topography of the city. Remarkable finds from the excavations within the city and its vicinity include inscriptions in “exotic scripts”, figurative graffiti, and rare pilgrims’ souvenirs and eulogiae that attest the existence of pilgrimage flow from distant countries. Some of these finds represent types discovered for the first time within secure archaeological contexts and were previously known only from private collections and museums. The new sites inside and outside the city include modest road stations and large complexes that were built under imperial patronage. Of special interest is a network of ecclesiastic sites strewn along the roads of the Judean Shephelah and illustrating the instrumental role of this region in the development of the pilgrimage routes connecting Jerusalem to the holy places to its south. These new discoveries allow us to initiate a discussion on certain categories of the finds, and on pilgrimage customs of the Byzantine city in general.