Three verses of iambic trimeters. Here set out in verse form.
ὅστις πρόσεισι | [κα]ρ̣δίαν ἁγνὴν ἔχοι |
[μνήμην φ]υλάττων | [ἐν β]̣ίῳ (?) τῶν μαρτύρων, |
[δι]δούς τε δόξαν | τῷ θεῷ κατ' ἀξίαν
1. [κα]ρ̣δίαν ἁγνὴν Gatier, [ὧδε] βάϊαν Di Segni || 2. [ἐν β]̣ίῳ (?) Gatier, [τῶν ἁγ]ιω(τά)των Di Segni || 3. [δι]δούς Gatier, [ν], δούς Di Segni
'Whoever enters, let him hold a pure heart, keeping [the memory in life (?)] of the holy martyrs and giving glory to God as is His due.'
Text: SEG 56, 1937 based on remarks by P.-L. Gatier from BE (2008), 571. Translation: L. Di Segni, modified.
Saint NameAnonymous martyrs : S00060
Saint Name in Sourceμάρτυρες
Type of EvidenceArchaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Archaeological and architectural - Altars with relics
Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Literary - Poems
Evidence not before550
Evidence not after650
Activity not before550
Activity not after650
Place of Evidence - RegionArabia
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcMadaba
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Madaba
Sakkaia / Maximianopolis
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsVisiting graves and shrines
Cult Activities - RelicsReliquary – institutionally owned
SourceFragmentary round mosaic medallion from the mosaic in the narthex of the so-called 'Church of the Holy Martyrs' (el-Khader), set in the floor in front of the main entrance. Lost on the left-hand side. Dimensions not specified. The text is written in six lines. Fine lettering. On top and bottom of the medallion there are floral ornaments.
The church, termed 'the Church of the Holy Martyrs' by Anne Michel (based on the contents of the present inscription), lies in the central/northeast sector of the city. It was a three-aisled basilica (32.15 m x 16.10 m) with an apse with a synthronon, flanked by two chambers, and with a narthex. The choir contains traces of four pillars of an altar and a reliquary socket among them. Floors of the church are richly decorated with mosaics. The carpet mosaics of both aisles and the narthex consist of geometric patterns and rosettes, but the nave houses a rectangular mosaic, divisible into three registers, showing trees, animals and figural depictions (mostly in hunting scenes) encircled by acanthus leaves. They were damaged in a period of iconoclasm, and by the exposition to environmental factors after the excavations in 1966. It seems that the building was originally smaller and at some point extended towards west. Ruins bear traces of at least three restorations.
The building was known to 19th c. travellers, and was identified as a church by Giuseppe Manfredi in 1897. It was first excavated in 1966 by Ute Lux under the auspices of the Deutsches Evangelisches Institut in Jerusalem. In 1991 and in 1993 followed surveys and excavations conducted by the Franciscan Archaeological Institute and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (supervised by Ghazi Bisheh).
Our mosaic panel was found by the team of Bisheh. Its existence was known to Anne Michel who mentions it in her description of the church (2001, 313), but the text and a photograph were published only in 2006  by Leah di Segni. Further comments and different completions were suggested by Pierre-Louis Gatier in 2008.
DiscussionThe inscription addresses people entering the church through its west doorway and encourages them to venerate unnamed martyrs whose relics were probably kept in the shrine. Di Segni published it originally as a prosaic text with different completions than those we reproduce here. Her translation reads as follows: 'Whoever enters hither, let him hold a pure palm branch (βάϊα? - the word is partailly restored), keeping [the memory] of the most holy martyrs and giving glory to God as is His due'. Which is interesting, she argued that the reader was asked to venerate the martyrs by holding palm branches as, she said, 'βάϊα seems to be a local or vulgar variant of the proper form: βάϊον (neuter) or βάϊς (accusative βάϊν), feminine, “palm branch.”' She also noted that the last phrase was reminiscent of Psalm 67 (68), 35 also echoed in the Book of Revelation (4.9; 11.13; 14.7), and that the formula does appear in local inscriptions.
However, Pierre-Louis Gatier rightly pointed out that the inscription might actually contain a short poem composed in three iambic trimeters, and plausibly suggested alternative completions, dismissing Di Segni's supposition that the dubious word in the middle of verse 1 should be restored as βάϊα and that the inscription mentioned palm branches used to venerate martyrs in a peculiar ritual.
Dating: based on the shape of letter Di Segni dated the inscription to the second third of the sixth century. Needless to say, this is a very tentative dating. Sadly, the archaeological context is of little help: based on the style of mosaic floors Lux and Piccirillo dated the church to the second half of the 6th or beginning of the 7th c. (see: Michel 2001, 314).
Di Segni, L., "A mosaic pavement in the Church of the Holy Martyrs (el-Khader) at Madaba. Ricerca storico-archeologica in Giordania XXVI – 2006", Liber Annuus 56 (2006) , 586-587 and Tav. 55, Fig. 6.
Michel, A., Les églises d'époque byzantine et umayyade de Jordanie (provinces d'Arabie et de Palestine), Ve-VIIIe siècle: typologie architecturale et aménagements liturgiques (avec catalogue des monuments; préface de Noël Duval; premessa di Michele Piccirillo) (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité tardive 2, Turnhout: Brepols, 2001), 311-314, no. 119.
Piccirillo, M., Alliata, E., "Madaba 1993 - Indagini nelle chiese del Khadir e dei Sunna'. Ricerca storico-archeologica in Giordania XIII-1993", Liber Annuus 43 (1993), 480 and Pl. 45.
Bulletin épigraphique (2008) no. 571.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 56, 1937.