Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Sacred Stone Volume 51 Number 1, January/February 1998
by Andrew L. Slayman

A rock venerated by early Christians as the place where the Virgin Mary rested on her way to Bethlehem has been found, according to Rina Avner of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The Church of the Kathisma ("seat" in Greek) had been built in the fifth century to enshrine the stone, according to Byzantine records, but by the twelfth century it had been destroyed and its exact location forgotten.

Five years ago, roadbuilders found the ruins of an octagonal church, at 173 by 143 feet the largest of its kind in the Holy Land. Excavations revealed that an earlier church, dating to the fifth century, had been destroyed and rebuilt at least once before its final destruction in the eighth or ninth century.

Suspecting that the ruins were those of the Kathisma, Avner reasoned that since it was octagonal the rock had to be at its center. Excavations exposed the tip of the rock, but work was halted in 1993 and resumed only last year after bulldozers working on a housing project accidentally damaged the church's foundations. New excavations showed that the rock was about six feet across, protruded a few inches above the floor, and was set off by a low wall. The site will be closed while excavations are completed.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America