Saint NameMary, Mother of Christ : S00033
Saint Name in SourceΜαρία
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Graffiti
Evidence not before200
Evidence not after450
Activity not before200
Activity not after450
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcNazareth
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Nazareth
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPrayer/supplication/invocation
SourceGraffito scratched on a fragment of a plastered column base. Found in 1955 during the construction of the modern Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, in the debris under the floor-mosaic of the 'Byzantine' convent contemporary to the 'Byzantine' basilica (on which see the report by the Piacenza Pilgrim: E00414). Many other fragments of painted and scratched invocations of God and Christ were also recorded in the same context.
First published by Bellarmino Bagatti in 1962.
DiscussionBagatti suggests that the abbreviated word could read χ(αῖρ)ε/'hail' (after Luke 1:28), whilst Louis Robert in the Bulletin épigraphique notes that another expansion is possible Χ(ριστ)έ/'Christ'.
According to Bagatti this is a visitor's graffito, written before the mid-5th c. This approximate terminus ante quem is deduced from the fact that the debris found under the floor-mosaic must predate the construction of the 'Byzantine' church and convent. Bagatti says that the style of the debris resembles that of synagogues, but the stone fragments certainly come from a Christian sanctuary. Presumably a very early one (3rd-mid-5th c.?), he says, and he puts forward a very fragile hypothesis of the existence of a 3rd c. 'Christian synagogue' in Nazareth, based on the association of these architectural fragments with a passage by Epiphanius of Salamis, naming a certain Christian church synagogue (PG 41, col. 436).
Yiannis Meimaris was very excited about the present graffito and Bagatti's interpretation. He wrote: 'the invocation is of great importance, firstly because of the place, and secondly because of the time. For the place because it is precisely the shrine that records the house of Mary and hence the Annunciation; for the time because, as far as it is known, it is the oldest invocation and one which precedes the Council of Ephesos, A.D. 431, from which Maria's cult developed.'
We must note, however, that the fragments described by Bagatti need not predate the council of 431. The only date we have is an approximate terminus ante quem provided by the construction of the Byzantine church and convent, and the deposition of the debris under the floor of the latter, which is believed to have happened around the middle of the 5th c.. Hence, the graffito could just as well date towards the end of the existence of the presumed earlier sanctuary, possibly 431-470.
Bagatti, B., Excavations in Nazareth, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1969), 156-157.
Bagatti, B., "[Note in the Chronique archéologique]", La Revue biblique (1962), 418-420 and Plate XLVIIIb.
Meimaris, Y., Sacred Names, Saints, Martyrs and Church Officials in the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri pertaining to the Christian Church of Palestine (Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation, Center for Greek and Roman Antiquity, 1986), 81, no. 508.
Bulletin épigraphique (1964), 513.