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E03562: Floor-mosaics with inscriptions invoking *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030) and the God of St. Stephen, and mentioning a bishop involved in the embellishment of places of saintly cult. Found at Ḥorvat Be’er-Shema/Khirbet el-Far (probably ancient Birsama/Bersamon) in the northwestern Negev, between Gaza and Elousa, close to Beersheva; Roman province of Palaestina I). Probably late 5th - early 6th c.

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posted on 2017-08-13, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Inscription 1:

Framed rectangular mosaic panel with lining below letters. Set in the middle of the presbyterium, in front of the altar. Dimensions not specified.

τῷ οἴκῳ σου πρέπει ἁγίασμα, Κ(ύρι)ε· (branch)
τὰ σὰ ἐκ τον σῶν σοι προσφέρωμε-
ν· ὑπὲρ σωτηρίας Ἀλαφων καὶ Ἐμέ-
σωνος καὶ Σαβῖνα καὶ Θεοδώρας·
ὁ θ(εὸς) τοῦ ἁγίου Στεφάνου, μνήσθη-
τι τὸν δοῦλόν σου Στεφάνου πρεσβυτ(έρου)

'Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord (Psalm 93.5). We bring before Thee Thine of Thine. As a vow for the salvation of Alaphon, and Emeson, and Sabina, and Theodora. O God of Saint Stephen, remember your servant, the presbyter Stephanos!'

Text: SEG 46, 2010. Translation: V. Tzaferis, modified.

Inscription 2:

Fragmentary mosaic panel framed by a tabula ansata. Set in the floor of the nave, at its west end. Dimensions not specified.

[- - - - - - - -]
[- - - - - - - -]
[.....]ΔΕΙΖ[- - -]
τῖχος ἀκαταμάχητον [- - -]
ψυχῶν καὶ σωμάτων ἰατὴ[ρ - - -]
ἀρχιδιάκ(ων) καὶ πρωτομάρτυς Στέφαν[ε - - -]

'[- - -] wall (fortification) irresistible [- - -], healer of souls and bodies [- - -] O archdeacon and First Martyr Stephen [- - -]!'

Text: SEG 46, 2011. Translation: V. Tzaferis.

Inscription 3:

The inscription is laid out in two squarish mosaic panels flanking another square with geometric motifs. The three squares are surrounded by lozenges and medallions, and framed by a large rectangle with a dating formula on its upper border. Set in the floor of the nave, to the east of the main carpet mosaic. Dimensions not specified.

ἐπὶ Στεφάνου παραμοναρ(ίου) (καὶ) πρεσβ(υτέρου) ἐτελιώθη τὸ ἔργον τοῦτο

ἀρχιποιμὴν ἐκ καὶ λαμπροίνο(ν)-
θ(εο)ῦ γέγονεν ἡ̣[μῖ]̣ν ται καὶ οἱ ἅγιοι
Μακαιδό̣ν[ιος ὁ ὁ]- κοσμοῦνται καὶ
σιώτ(ατος) ἐπί̣σ[κοπος], ὁ λαὸς ἁγάλλετ(αι)
ὅθεν ἐπ’ ̣α[ὐτοῦ] διαμεῖναι τῇ
ναοί άν[εγείρονται] ἀγέλῃ αὐτοῦ

'Under the guardian (paramonarios) and presbyter Stephanos this work was completed. By God has become our arch-shepherd Makedonios, the most reverend bishop, so that in [his] time churches are [erected], and are made magnificent, and the saints are adorned, and the people rejoice in his flock.'

Text: SEG 46, 2009. Translation: V. Tzaferis, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Unnamed saints (or name lost) : S00518

Saint Name in Source

Στέφανος ἅγιοι

Image Caption 1

Inscription 1. From: Gazit & Lender 1992, 36.

Image Caption 2

Inscription 2. From: Tzaferis 1996, 82*.

Image Caption 3

Inscription 3. From: Tzaferis 1996, 79*.

Image Caption 4

Medallions from the carpet mosaic. From: Gazit & Lender 1992, 38-39.

Image Caption 5

Plan of the church. From: Tzaferis 1996, 75*.

Type of Evidence

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


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai Palestine with Sinai Palestine with Sinai Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Elousa Gaza Ḥorvat Be’er-Shema/Khirbet el-Far Berosaba/Beersheva

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

Elousa Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis Gaza Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis Ḥorvat Be’er-Shema/Khirbet el-Far Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis Berosaba/Beersheva Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Explicit naming a child, or oneself, after a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous protection - of people and their property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Women Other lay individuals/ people Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Peasants


The mosaics were found in a ruined basilica (12.50 m x 21.00 m) with an annexed baptismal chapel, excavated by Dan Gazit and Yeshayahu Lender in 1989/1990 on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. A total number of ten dedicatory inscriptions were recorded, but only three of them mention saints. Based on their contents, the basilica is believed to have been dedicated to Stephen the First Martyr (but note that the inscription SEG 46, 2005 says that 'this is the shrine of the Trinity'/Τριάδος δόμος οὗτος). The floor-mosaics were decorated with geometric patterns and rosettes, and high quality depictions of people (a donkey driver, an aulos player, donors, a breast-feeding woman, a black elephant rider) and animals (lions, oxen, bears, birds in a cage, and a mongoose fighting a serpent) within medallions of vines. It is supposed that the mosaics were made by a group of mosaicists rather than one person. Some of the inscriptions and carpet mosaics were first published in photographs by Gazit and Lender in three papers between 1991 and 1993. The first edition of the mosaic inscriptions was offered by Vassilios Tzaferis in 1996. Further comments and corrected readings were given by Denis Feissel in the Bulletin épigraphique (1997): the improved text is accessible also through the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum (these changes are, strangely, not included in the corpus of mosaic pavements by Madden, although he cites the edition in the SEG in his bibliography).


Inscription 1 records the name of the presbyter Stephanos who was probably the main agent behind the construction of the church. He appears in three more dedicatory inscriptions (SEG 46, 2005, 2007, 2009), also as the shrine's 'guardian' (paramonarios). Tzaferis supposes that the panel was located close to a reliquary with relics of Stephen, concealed beneath the altar (for a similarly set panel with names of donors, see E02966 and E03581). The primary role of the inscription was, therefore, the personification of the donor, and of those for whose salvation he had built the church (presumably family members), next to saint's relics. The fact that the dedicant was a namesake of St. Stephen may indicate peculiar devotion of his family to the First Martyr. Line 2 is reminiscent of a popular formula, common in dedicatory inscriptions and present in the Liturgy of Basil and the Liturgy of John Chrysostom. Inscription 2 is very interesting, as we have here a rare case of a complex eulogy of a saint recorded in an inscription. Saint Stephen is apparently addressed as an 'irresistible wall', and a 'physician of souls and bodies'. Tzaferis sees a link between the phrasing of the present inscription and early Christian hymns, but it is not clear if we have here a metrical text. In literary sources martyrs were often metaphorically depicted as towers and places of refuge. Inscription 3 is a rare record of the peculiar devotion of a bishop towards places of the cult of saints in his diocese. Makedonios is probably a bishop of Gerara (see below), and the inscription probably commemorates the completion of the shrine, started under his predecessor. Tzaferis argued for the occurrence of a comes/'governor of the imperial estate at Gerar[a]/Saltus Gerariticus' in another mosaic panel from our church (SEG 46, 2005), but Denis Feissel points out that he misunderstood the term κομῆται which here stands for κωμῆται/'villagers', not for the Latin comes/'count'. That inscription, therefore, says that the church was built from the contributions of villagers under the bishop of Gerara, Helladios. As both inscriptions mention the same presbyter Stephanos who supervised the work, we can suppose that Makedonios held the same bishopric immediately after Helladios. Other inscriptions mention donors, both men and women, some of them bearing Arabic names (e.g. Ommoselame), and probably a monastic storage-room manager. Dating: As the timeframes of the episcopacy of bishops Helladios and Makedonios are not known, we cannot precisely date the inscriptions. Tzaferis placed them in the late 5th or early 6th c., based on the evidence of other, dated inscriptions from the region. He rightly supposes that the construction of the church probably postdates the invention of relics of Stephen at Caphar Gamala near Jerusalem in 415, an event which contributed greatly to the development of his cult, and that it may possibly even postdate the construction of Eudocia's church of Stephen in Jerusalem in 460.


Edition: Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 46, 2004-2011. Tzaferis, V., "Greek inscriptions from the ancient church at Horvat Be'er-Shema'", Eretz Israel 25 (1996), 75*-85*. Gazit, D., Lender, Y., "The Church of St. Stephen at Horvat Beer-Shema", in: Y. Tsafrir (ed.), Ancient Churches Revealed (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1993), 273-276. Gazit, D., Lender, Y., "St. Stephen's Church at Beer-Shema’, Northern Negev", Qadmoniot 25 (1992), 33-40. Gazit, D., Lender, Y., "Horvat Be-er Shema", Excavations and Surveys in Israel 10 (1991), 43-45. Further reading: Madden A.M., Corpus of Byzantine Church Mosaic Pavements in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Leuven - Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2014), 43-45, no. 49. Schick, R., The Christian Communities of Palestine from Byzantine to Islamic Rule: A Historical and Archaeological Study (Studies in late antiquity and early Islam 2, Princeton, N.J: Darwin Press, 1995), 309. Reference works: Bulletin épigraphique (1997), 659; (2000), 675; (2015), 679. Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 732-733.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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