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E02692: A grotto and a church reportedly dedicated to *John the Baptist (S00217) or *Elijah (Old Testament prophet, S00020) at Sapsaphas/Wadi-Kharrar (= Ainon/Betharaba in Bethany, Palaestina I). Possibly with a Greek floor mosaic inscription referring to the saint(s). Probably late antique.

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posted on 2017-04-12, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
In their list of the places of Christian cult in the borderland of Jordan and Palestine, Sylvester Saller and Bellarmino Bagatti record at Sapsaphas 'a grotto and a church either in honor of St. John [the] B[aptist] or St. Elias [= Elijah, the Old Testament Prophet] or both'. It is, however, not specified, what was the basis for this identification (a dedicatory floor mosaic, a graffito, etc.). The site was revisited by Michele Piccirillo in 1995 and in 1997 was excavated by the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. The excavators unearthed a chapel with a single aisle and a squarish choir, and floor mosaics including a Greek inscription of five lines.

The site is discussed by Anne Michel. See also Manns 2011, 197-198 who mentions a marble fragment inscribed with the letters ΙΟΥ ΒΑΤΤ, found in a 7th c. church at the site. It is not clear, whether it is the church we discuss here.

Sapsaphas is usually identified with Ainon/Betharaba in Bethany beyond the Jordan, the place where John the Baptist preached to the Jews, recorded in the Mosaic Map of Madaba (see $E02524, no. 1). The site is known to the Pilgrim of Bordeaux (AD 333, $EXXXXX); Theodosius (who mentions a shrine of John the Baptist built by the emperor Anastasius, squarish and set on arcades; that church housed a marble column fitted with an iron cross, to mark the place of the baptism of Jesus, $EXXXXX). The grotto at Sapsaphas is also mentioned by John Moschus as the place of an apparition of John the Baptist ($EXXXXX). See: Manns 2011, 198.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Baptist : S00020 Elijah, Old Testament prophet : S00217

Type of Evidence

Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea) Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Bethabara Sapsaphas/Wadi-Kharrar

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Bethabara Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis Sapsaphas/Wadi-Kharrar Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings


Further reading: Manns, F., "The historical character of the Fourth Gospel", Liber Annuus 61 (2011), 197-198. 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), 418. Papparlardo, C., "Ceramica dal Wadi Kharrar – Sapsafas. Ricerca storico-archeologica in Giordania 17", Liber Annuus 47 (1997), 509-512 and Pl. 53. Piccirillo, M., "Il santuario di Sapsafas nel Wadi Kharrar. Ricerca storico-archeologica in Giordania 15", Liber Annuus 45 (1995), 515-518. Piccirillo, M., "Il Parco del battesimo di Wadi-Kharrar 1997. Ricerca storico-archeologica in Giordania 17", Liber Annuus 47 (1997), 506-509. Piccirillo, M., Alliata, E., The Madaba Map Centenary, 1897-1997: Travelling through the Byzantine Umayyad Period (Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1999), 218-221. Saller, S.J., Bagatti, B., The Town of Nebo (Khirbet El-Mekhayyat): with a brief survey of other Christian monuments in Transjordan (Jerusalem: Franciscan Press, 1949), 226, no. 59.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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