Saint NameUnnamed ascetics (or name lost) : S00117
Saint Name in Sourceἅγοι πατέρες
Image Caption 1Photograph. From: Di Segni & Hirschfeld 1987, no. 4.
Image Caption 2Plan of the site with the location of the mosaic marked as no. 4. From: Di Segni & Hirschfeld 1987, 370.
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Evidence not before480
Evidence not after600
Activity not before480
Activity not after600
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Palestine with Sinai
Palestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcJerusalem
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Jerusalem
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPrayer/supplication/invocation
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - abbots
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
SourceMosaic panel, framed by a tabula ansata, set in front of the apse, in the east section of the floor of a small chapel sited to the east of the monastic church at Khirbet Ed-Deir. The chapel conjoins a rock-face with a natural cave. Dimensions of the tabula ansata: H. 0.31 m; W. 0.95 m. Letter height 0.06 m. Letters of black tesserae, separated by yellow lines. The panel is superimposed by a semicircle with a conch. The rest of the carpet mosaic of the chapel is decorated with geometric patterns.
The ruins of the monastery lie to the south of Bethlehem and Tekoa. They were first recorded by Claude Conder and Horatio Kitchener, acting on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund, in the late 19th c. The inscription was found during the excavations started in 1982 by Yizhar Hirschfeld. The monastery is said to have been founded in the first half of the 6th c. The complex consists of two parts: a dwelling on top of a rock spur and a common space in a gorge with a church-cave and a refectory.
The inscription was first published in 1987 by Leah Di Segni and Yizhar Hirschfeld. Soon after, Denis Feissel offered an altered interpretation of line 1, where he read ἅγοι π(ατέ)ρες/'Holy Fathers' instead of ἅγοι πρεσ(βύτεροι)/'Holy Presbyters'. In 1999 Di Segni republished the inscriptions arguing against Feissel's suggestion. We, however, retain his interpretation, as the term ἅγοι πατέρες is very close to ὅσοι πατέρες/'Reverend Fathers' commonly used for important monastic agents in literary sources and inscriptions (see, for example, E00796; EXXXX Sinai).
DiscussionDi Segni and Hirschfeld identified the chapel, where the inscription was found, and its adjacent cave, as a burial complex, comparable with a similar establishment in the monastery of St. Euthymios, described by Cyril of Scythopolis. That tomb was designed to house the bodies of Euthymios (the founder of the convent), abbots (his successors), priests and remarkable holy men who might emerge in the monastery. Consequently, the editors suggest that the Holy Fathers, whose intercession is invoked here, are prominent deceased monks from the monastery. The phrasing of the invocation is identical with that of inscriptions addressed to martyrs and other saints. The inscription is thus important evidence for the development of the cult of monastic founders, abbots, and ascetics, whose intercession could be sought in a similar way as that of famous martyrs. It also shows the impossibility of defining the lower limits of 'cult', here the help of unnamed holy men is being invoked, and they are being described as securely amongst the blessed.
Di Segni and Hirschfeld suggest that the chapel served for the celebration of the anniversaries of the deaths of the deceased, and that it could also have been frequented by pilgrims seeking shelter on their journeys.
Dating: the editors date the establishment of the monastery and the laying-out of the mosaics to the late 5th or first half of the 6th c., based on the fact that literary sources place the development of the monastic movement in the region in this period. However, the pottery found on the site, and two coin finds (of Anastasius I and Justinian I) suggest a date in the second half of the 6th c, as rightly pointed out by Jodi Magness.
Di Segni, L., "", in: Y. Hirschfeld, and others (eds.), The Early Byzantine Monastery at Khirbet ed-Deir in the Judean Desert: the Excavations in 1981-1987 (Qedem 38, Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1999), 97-106, nos. 1-4.
Di Segni, L., Hirschfeld, Y., "Four Greek inscriptions from the monastery at Khirbet Ed-Deir in the Judean Desert", Orientalia Christiana Periodica 53 (1987), no. 4.
Madden A.M., Corpus of Byzantine Church Mosaic Pavements in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Leuven - Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2014), 50-52, no. 61 (with a wrong expansion of the abbreviation).
Magness, J., "Review: The Early Byzantine Monastery at Khirbet ed-Deir in the Judean Desert: The Excavations in 1981-1987 by Yizhar Hirschfeld", Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 322 (May, 2001), 91-94.
Bulletin épigraphique (1989), 1003.
Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 747.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 37, 1496; 49, 2067.