The fourth excavation season at the Church of the Glorious Martyr complex, followed three successive seasons that began in 2017 (Storchan and Albag 2019; Storchan 2021a; Storchan 2021c). The excavations uncovered a large Byzantine-period church complex comprised of a basilical church with an internal crypt, an annexed chapel, and a large courtyard constructed in at least three building phases (Phases 1–3). The earliest remains (Phase 1) were not clear and were limited to the crypt area. Most of the church complex was built in Phase 2, dated to the mid-sixth century CE, based on an inscription in a mosaic floor in the courtyard. Phase 3 was similarly dated by an inscription in the mosaic floor of the chapel describing the expansion of the church in the late sixth century CE, funded by Emperor Flavius Tiberius II (Di Segni 2021). The church complex continued to function during the Umayyad period and was abandoned in the Abbasid period.
The current expedition took place in two areas partially excavated in previous seasons (Fig. 1): at the southwestern corner of the church complex, to expose the building foundations; and south of the church complex, near the Be’er Nativ (Bir el-Haj Khalil) well. In the course of the excavation, some restoration work was carried out to prevent erosion from prolonged exposure, in some cases involving the removal and replacement of loose stones, and the plastering of the walls. As in previous seasons, the excavation was conducted as part of the IAA’s educational initiative, exposing youth to archaeological fieldwork (Storchan 2021b).
The Southwestern Foundations. The previous excavations at the Church revealed that the southwestern area of the church complex was built into earlier architectural elements. During the current excavation, a small area was opened within and outside the Phase 3 southern and western enclosure walls to clarify the nature of the earlier remains (Fig. 2).
The excavation within the enclosure walls sought to expose their foundations. To do so, a portion of an unclear installation was removed. Below the installation were fill layers composed of crushed white limestone devoid of ceramic finds. Similar fill layers were uncovered outside the complex, indicating that this fill was laid down prior to the construction of the Phase 3 walls. This interpretation was further supported by foundation trenches containing brown fill abutting the walls. Below the white fill were the remains of an east–west wall built of a single row of unworked boulders, which probably retained the fill when the new southern wall of the Phase 3 complex was constructed. This wall was built directly on a lower wall, similarly oriented and built of well-cut ashlar stones (Fig. 3). This was probably the original southern wall of the Phase 2 complex, which was replaced when the church was expanded by the new Phase 3 wall. The expansion of the church complex c. 1.5 m to the south was probably due to structural faults encountered in the original walls. In this part of the church complex, the bedrock lies at a depth of c. 4 m below modern ground level.
The excavation outside and to the west of the church compound uncovered remains of a slightly differently oriented structure, whose walls were cut by the foundation trenches of the Phases 2 and 3 western enclosure walls. The most impressive feature associated with this earlier structure, attributed to Phase 1, were the remains of an arch (width 4.5 m; Fig. 4) that was partially dismantled due to the construction of the later walls. The limited ceramic assemblage supports dating the earlier structure to the fifth century CE, although the function of the arch and of the associated walls was not fully clarified.
The Be’er Nativ Well. The previous excavations carried out south of the church complex exposed remains of a square pool next to the well (Storchan 2021c: Fig. 18). The well was constructed in the Byzantine period, and it continued to be used into the Ottoman period. Remarkably, during the excavations of the church, the well retained water throughout most of the winter months and only dried up in the summer. The current excavation focused on a previously unexposed part of the Byzantine pool and on two terrace walls that encircled the pool and connected it to the church complex in the north (Fig. 5). In addition, a smaller pool with a white mosaic floor was exposed south of the well shaft (Fig. 6). The proximity of the two pools and the well suggests that they functioned together as a water system associated with the church complex.
The excavations of the Church of the Glorious Martyr complex are an integral part of the recent wave of salvage excavations conducted in the Ramat Bet Shemesh area. The relatively short, fourth excavation season at the Church complex exposed architectural remains dated to the initial building stages—when a large complex was erected at the site—and provided important stratigraphic information. The probe conducted at the southwest corner of the complex allowed for the identification of the Phase 2 compound wall, which was replaced by the later Phase 3 wall, both dated to the sixth century CE. The excavations also completely exposed the Byzantine pools next to the Be’er Nativ well.