The image of Jesus, hidden in the Negev church, is one of the oldest in Israel

The image of Jesus, hidden in the Negev church, is one of the oldest in Israel

The image of Jesus, hidden in the Negev Church, is one of the oldest in Israel.

Translation of an article published in The Times of Israel .

A young man, “the short, curly hair, long and oval face, big eyes and long nose”, represented in a tarnished paint found in the Byzantine church of the sixth century of the ancient village of Shivta.

One of the first representations of Jesus was recently discovered in a Byzantine church dating from the sixth century in the heart of the Negev Desert, Israel. Dr. Emma Maayan-Fanar identified the portrait of the Christian Messiah from a few vague outlines using a combination of conditions that was almost miraculous. Along with archaeologists and conservation specialists from Haifa University Prof. Guy Bar-Oz, Yotam Tepper and Ravit Linn, art historian Maayan-Fanar is involved in a multi-year interdisciplinary research project called The Byzantine Bioarchaeological Research Program of the Negev at UNESCO World Heritage Site Shivta. Its stated purpose is to examine “the reasons for the collapse of a complex society in an ecologically hostile region 1,500 years ago.”

Two weeks ago, Maayan-Fanar told The Times of Israel that during a recent visit to the North Church, one of three churches on the site, she took a look at the apse of the baptistery above her and immediately saw the face of Jesus who was staring at her. “I was under the apse in the right place at the right time. It’s so hidden – it’s impossible to see – but the light conditions were perfect, “says Maayan-Fanar.

In an article published in the August issue of Antiquity , the research team writes that the face, placed in a broader representation of Jesus’ baptism, is “the first scene of Christ’s baptism dating from the pre-iconoclastic period to be found in the Holy Land “.

Unlike the flowing dresses and hair usually encountered in Western depictions, the Jesus we see here is young, short-haired and curly.

In the report presented in the journal Antiquity , the researchers write: “Despite its fragmentary state, it reveals the face of a young man represented on the upper part of the apse. The figure has short, curly hair, a long oval face, large eyes and an elongated nose. “

“The face of Christ in this painting is an important discovery in itself. It belongs to the iconographic scheme of a Christ with short hair, particularly prevalent in Egypt and Syro-Palestine, but disappeared from later Byzantine art. The texts of the early sixth century include controversy over the authenticity of the visual appearance of Christ, including his hairstyle. Based on the iconography, we believe that this scene was also painted in the sixth century AD, “the authors write.

For the layman who has not received training, the fuzzy lines captured by Dror Maayan, his professional photographer and husband, look a bit like the iron stains often found after a rain in the desert. As Professor James Davila, an intellectual / blogger, has said, “to my inexperienced eyes, the new mural depiction of Jesus looks like one of those images of” Jesus on a piece of toast “that constantly appear on the Internet “.

The key, however, is to look at the contours with a seasoned eye. In his publication, including the Haaretz article behind the revelation, Davila added, “But I’m sure art history specialists who look at the original wall can see it better than me. “.

For the article published by the journal Antiquity , Maayan-Fanar made a reconstruction of the pencil image on a high-resolution photograph taken by her husband. With the contours she drew, the small spots become the portrait of a young man.

But is it Jesus?

According to Maayan-Fanar, there is little doubt. Primitive Christian art and iconography follow well-known formulas, she says. “Those who know the iconography of early Christianity can recognize such an image even from almost nothing,” she says. The location of the image, in the baptistery where there are still remains of the baptismal basin in stone in the form of a cross, increases its certainty.

Maayan-Fanar also identified a second, larger character, as being John the Baptist. This combination of a great John the Baptist and a young Jesus is common in Christian art. “Traces of painting in the apse suggest that these faces were part of a larger scene, which could contain additional characters,” the researchers write. The discovery of this painting is “extremely important,” they write. “Until now, it is the only scene of the baptism of Christ in situ (note: in his environment of origin) found in the Holy Land dating with certainty of the pre-iconoclastic period. Therefore, it can shed light on the Byzantine Christian community of Shivta and primitive Christian art throughout the region. “

More research on the horizon

Around the face of Jesus, in the center of the stage, are additional details hidden under an accumulation of dust and mud. According to the researchers, the dirt layer protected the underlying paint from further deterioration.

The team plans to use a variety of techniques and technologies to gather as much information as possible about the painting, according to conservation expert Linn. The trick is to see the invisible without touching the paint and without causing further deterioration. What is revolutionary about archeology, she says, is that much of this work can now be done in the field, rather than taking samples to take to the laboratory. “We try to spread as much information as we can on the spot, but there is not much to do, it’s true,” says Linn. According to her, viewing the image as representing Jesus is much more than an “enlightened guess” based on parallel examples found elsewhere in early Christendom.

Last year, the team has released another image of Jesus: a scene of the Transfiguration church found in the south of the site from the mid-fourth century AD. AD, which is only one of two figurative examples of the scene of the beginning of the Christian period, according to the researchers.

The dating of the painting of Jesus can not be given with absolute certainty, but an inscription engraved on the ground of the church dates the renovation of the structure in 640 apr. AD Armenian graffiti indicate that the church was not abandoned until the ninth century.

Using Visible Induced Luminescence Imaging (VIL), the team mapped the distribution of the Egyptian blue pigment in the painting and discovered radiant stars of unseen lights emanating from the bodies of Jesus and other figures that are there.

“Although this motif is an important part of the Transfiguration story and appears in most of the scenes depicted elsewhere, it was not previously identified in this painting because it was not detectable by any other technique. inspection, “the researchers write.

Linn said the research and conservation plan for the new painting found this year in the North Church is still in formation. The team plans to examine each block of stone individually and as a whole.

“Before we do anything, we need to know what we are going to do and what with,” she said, adding that the image is only a small part of the much larger bioarchaeology project. course.

A 360 ° approach to archaeological study

The project is based at the Zinman Institute of Archeology of Haifa University and led by Bar-Oz, but includes scientists from a wide range of disciplines. Previous publications have focused on agriculture and animal husbandry in the desert, as well as other archaeological discoveries. “Shivta is the focal point of our current project to explore the strengths and processes that allowed a burgeoning urban and agricultural society to flourish during the Byzantine period in the arid Negev, as well as to understand the which led to its decline, “the researchers write.

Located in the heart of the Negev desert, Shivta was colonized, potentially by the nomadic Nabataeans, at the beginning of the Roman era. According to archaeologists, “The colony was established for the first time by the Nabataeans in the first century AD. BC, before the Roman annexation of the region (105/106) “. The few signs of a Nabataean colony are a handful of potsherds, which could have been brought by others in Roman times, says Tepper.

The town reached its peak in a slightly distant colony Nabataean village in the Byzantine period (V-VI th th c. AD.). It was finally abandoned shortly after its cultural transition and transformation at the beginning of the Islamic period (middle of the seventh -.. The middle of the VIII th century AD), only to be rediscovered by archaeologists in the Holy Land in the nineteenth century, wrote the research team in a recent report entitled “Probing the transition from the Byzantine period / the early Islamic period in the Negev Shivta new excavation, 2015-2016.”

There have been previous excavations on the site, including one that “briefly lifted up” the face of Jesus recently discovered in the late 1920s, writes Maayan-Fanar in the August issue of Antiquity . But the documentation of the excavations was partial – if any – and the Haifa University team felt the field was sufficiently open to accommodate further research.

It is interesting to note that, perhaps because of the chain of multicultural colonies, there is an urban legend that promotes the site as a center of interfaith coexistence. This is not really confirmed by the archaeological footprints, according to the authors.

“The presence of three large churches indicates that Shivta was a prosperous Christian community. In comparison, the single mosque is much smaller than previous monuments, indicating a decline in the population on the site, “they write.

It seems, they write, that although the mosque is centrally located, next to the South Church and public reservoirs, there has been a sharp decline in the village population during the early Islamic period. According to the findings of the team, these early Muslims were mainly found in “abandoned and destroyed Byzantine structures”, which could indicate population replacement rather than coexistence. The coexistence, the agriculture and even the face of Jesus are just some of the pieces of the puzzle examined by the 360-degree multidisciplinary team. “We are continuing research and we expect there to be many more interesting projects in the near future,” Linn said.


Banjska (Kosovo): the martyred monastery

The site of the Association Solidarité Kosovo, dedicated since 2004 to the help of Serbs in Kosovo, published this presentation:

On the outskirts of Kosovska Mitrovica, the mountain range of Rogozna is home to a unique history, that of the Banjska Monastery. With its experience of the major events that marked the history of Serbia –from the Ottoman occupation to the anti-Christian pogroms in 2004– it has had a turbulent and sometimes tragic past, but also an extraordinary destiny and fidelity.
Solidarité Kosovo has had the honor to contribute to the restoration of this Christian building, a jewel of medieval Europe.

Where West and East meet: Gothic style with a Byzantine interior

Built between 1312 and 1316 at the request of the Serbian king Stefan Milutin who wanted to be buried there, the majestic monastery of Banjska stands on the green backdrop of the Zvečan Valley, in the north of Kosovo, bordered by the Ibar river. Built in a Gothic style of French origin and characteristic of Western Europe, the Banjska Monastery is one of only two of its kind in Kosovo. The second is none other than Visoki Dečani Monastery.

The construction works were led by the prior Danilo II, who later became patriarch of the Serbian Church. In addition to the church dedicated to Saint Stephen, the Christian site originally consisted of dormitories and a refectory, as well as of the enclosure walls and towers. Another architectural feature is the facade of the church, adorned with tricolor stones (white, red, and blue), unique in the region.

In contrast to the Western-inspired exterior architecture, the interior of the church was fully adapted to the Orthodox rite, with its majestic frescoes and unique dome adorned with the overlooking Christ Pantocrator. This style, unique in Europe and representing an architectural syncretism at the crossroads of Roman Catholic and Orthodox influences, is called the Raška school.

Razed to the ground, demolished, burned, converted into a mosque, and revived in 1939

The history of Banjska Monastery is emblematic of the vicissitudes of History in the Balkans, and more precisely in Kosovo.

Seventy years after its construction, King Milutin’s resting place, a symbol of the rise of the medieval Serbian state, did not resist the decline inaugurated by the Turkish invasion. After the Battle of Kosovo at Kosovo Polje in 1389, marking the defeat of Serbian troops against the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan ordered the monastery to be razed to the ground. The destruction was trumpeted by the wreckers to morally weaken the Christians of the region who had fallen under their servitude.

Rebuilt by the Orthodox faithful of the surrounding villages, the monastery was demolished again in the 16th century by the Ottoman occupiers. As the ultimate sign of the Moslem domination, the Saint Stephen church, by then almost completely destroyed, was converted into a mosque in the 17th century. Confiscated from the Christians, the site was used for Muslim worship until the First World War. The church became the theater of clashes during the Austro-Hungarian war and the Balkan wars, and was again severely damaged by a fire.

It was not until 1939 that the first restoration work was undertaken. This explains that there is almost nothing visible of the richness of the frescoes that used to adorn the church, except a few traces on the dome. Interrupted during the communist period, restoration work resumed in 1990.

Solidarity Kosovo Association started in this symbolic place and in moving circumstances, through a chance meeting with the parish priest. We had already bumped into him a few days earlier in Mitrovica. Banjska was the first monastery visited by the French volunteers of Solidarité Kosovo, more than 14 years ago, in particularly moving circumstances, as the following will show.

At a crossroads, with Solidarité Kosovo

Friday, January 7, 2005
In the early morning, the cold was biting. The snow had covered the monastery property with a thick layer, without concealing the stigmata of past pogroms. The silence conducive to recollection was interrupted by the Saint-Stephen church bells pealing. Christmas Mass is celebrated there following the Gregorian calendar.
Shouts of joy instilled life and color into the ruined building. The children from Banjska were running to the church square. They were dressed poorly, wore woolen socks and plastic sandals. With a straightforward smile and sparkling eyes, they nodded at six slightly older French youths. A line of boxes was separating them, containing what had been collected in Grenoble, Paris and elsewhere to help Serbs in Kosovo. Arnaud Gouillon knelts down, found a pretty doll with rosy cheeks, and offered it to little Marija. She delicately took it in her arms. This was the first toy in her whole life. She already seemed in love with it. Then the humanitarian distribution began. The bells were still pealing. Solidarité Kosovo was born.

Thirteen years later, the children of Banjska have grown up. Solidarité Kosovo as well. The bonds of brotherhood and solidarity with the Kosovo Serbs have been strengthened, as well as those between the association and the Banjska parish priest. Father Danilo is one of the first liaison of the NGO. He has since become a loyal friend, and regularly receives visits.
During his last meeting with Arnaud Gouillon [the current chairman of the association], Father Danilo asked for the association to help him restore the medieval walls of the monastery. Solidarité Kosovo  felt honored to contribute to this project, as this heritage place is a symbol of protection and resistance to the vicissitudes of History in Serbia and more broadly in Europe. In all, 60,000 euros were devoted to the restoration of the fortifications. Remaining faithful to the original beauty and style required a meticulous and qualified work.

The restoration work was completed early November 2018. The faithful of the Saint-Stephen parish thus received their Christmas present ahead of time! But Santa Claus promised to come again this year, after the Nativity, on the occasion of his traditional convoy established seventeen years ago, to give toys coming from France to Banjska’s children. The children of the children first met in 2005 and who have now become parents.

“Christmas is the spring of the spirit. It is a promise”  Alain (Seasons of the Spirit, published in 1937)


Review: Sainte-Odile: The Mount and its Graces, by Patrick Koelher

Patrick Koelher, Sainte-Odile. Le mont et les grâces, Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 2018, 240 p.

Father Patrick Koehler, the rector of Mont Sainte-Odile since 2010, has just published a book to introduce the Jubilee which will celebrate in 2020 the 1,300th anniversary of the death of Saint Odile (also known as Odilia or Ottilia), the patroness saint of Alsace.

Patrick Koelher

At the beginning of each chapter, the author offers excerpts from the Vita sanctæ Odiliæ virginis and refers as well to scenes depicted in a 15th century tapestry hanging in the buildings where the relics of the saint are preserved. He also uses situations to share some of his pastoral experiences in relation with the relics, at Mont Saint-Odile and in the places where he previously exercised his priesthood.

In the Catholic style, it is a book full of testimonies and “emotions”, as noted by a critic. The life of the saint is considered in the light of current experiences.

This book gives us the opportunity to recall the importance of saint Odile in the Orthodox world, as she was an Orthodox saint of the first millennium. Father Makarios of Simonos Petra wrote a notice on her in his Synaxarion for December 13/26, when she is commemorated. Her life and troparion were published in Russian, for the many pilgrims from Russia who go nowadays to Mont Saint-Odile to venerate her relics, where a monastery founded by the saint was built.

This beautiful place, located near the town of Obernai on a hill overlooking the plain of Alsace, also attracts Orthodox pilgrims from France, Switzerland, and other European countries, including Greece, where a complete liturgical service (Little Vespers, Vespers, Matins, Divine Liturgy) was composed for this saint. Relics of saint Odile are venerated in several Orthodox churches, among others that of the Pantokrator Monastery on Mount Athos, and icons representing her are found in many Orthodox sanctuaries.

Many Orthodox faithful have been cured of ophthalmic diseases, sometimes very serious, by the intercession of the saint who was born blind and recovered her sight in her childhood thanks to a miracle. These miracles often imply applying some of the water that flows from a miraculous spring located below the sanctuary, at the edge of a forest road leading to Niedermunster, a second monastery founded by the saint and now in ruins. In connection with one of these miracles, a very beautiful akathist to the saint was composed in French by Claude Lopez-Ginisty.

Jean-Claude Larchet is the author of this review, written originally in French.

Life of Saint Odilia as found in Butler’s Lives of the Saints:

ST ODILIA, or OTTILIA, Virgin (c. a.d. 720)


There lived in the time of King Childeric II a Frankish lord of Alsace named
Adalric, married to a lady named Bereswindis. To them was born, near the end
of the seventh century, at Obernheim in the Vosges Mountains, a daughter who
was blind from her birth. This was a matter first of irritation and then of un-
reasoning fury to Adalric ; he regarded it as a personal affront to himself and a
reflection on the honour of his family, in which such a misfortune had never
happened before. In vain did his wife try to persuade him that it was the will of
God, decreed in order that His almighty power might be made manifest in the
child. Adalric would have none of it, and insisted that the babe should be slain.
Bereswindis was able at length to turn him from this crime, but only on condition
that the child should be sent away and nobody told to whom it really belonged.
She fulfilled the first part of this condition, but not the second, confiding the baby
and its history to a peasant woman who had formerly been in her service. When
this woman’s neighbours asked awkward questions, Bereswindis arranged for her
and all her family to go away and live at Baume-les-Dames, near Besan^on, where
there was a nunnery in which the girl in due course could be brought up. Here
she lived until she was twelve years old, without, for reasons not explained, ever
having been baptized. Then St Erhard, a bishop at Regensburg, was warned in
a vision that he was to go to the convent at Baume, where he would find a young
girl who had been born blind ; her he was to baptize, giving her the name of Odilia,
and she would receive her sight. St Erhard thereupon consulted St Hidulf at
Moyenmoutier, and together they went to Baume. They found the girl and
baptized her, giving her the name of Odilia (Ottilia, Othilia, Odile), and when he
had anointed her head St Erhard touched her eyes with the chrism and at once
she could see.

Odilia continued to serve God in the convent, but the miracle of which she had
been the subject and the progress she now made in studies raised up the jealousy
of some of the nuns and they began to indulge in petty persecution. So Odilia
sent a letter to her brother Hugh, of whose existence she had been told, asking him
to do for her whatever his kind heart should suggest. St Erhard meanwhile had
acquainted Adalric with his daughter’s recovery, and that unnatural parent was
more angry than ever, flatly refusing Hugh’s request to have Odilia home and
forbidding the mention of her name. Hugh nevertheless sent for her, and it so
happened that he was standing with his father on a neighbouring hill when Odilia
arrived in a wagon, surrounded by a crowd of people. When Adalric heard who
it was and how she came to be there, he raised his heavy staff and with one blow
stretched Hugh dead at his feet. In his remorse he turned to his daughter and
was as affectionate to her as he had before been cruel. Odilia lived at Obernheim
with a few companions who joined her in her devotions and charitable works
among the poor. After a time her father wanted to marry her to a German duke,
whereupon she fled from home and, when she was closely pursued, a cliff-face at
the Schlossberg, near Freiburg in Breisgau, opened to admit and conceal her. To
get her home again Adalric promised her his castle of Hohenburg (now called the
Odilienberg) to turn into a monastery, and here she became abbess. Finding that
the steepness of the mountain was a discouragement and inconvenience to pilgrims
she founded an auxiliary convent lower down on the eastern side, called Nieder-
miinster, with a hospice attached.

It is said of the holy foundress that some time after the death of her father she
received a supernatural assurance that her prayers and penances had released him
from the state of Purgatory, and that St John the Baptist appeared to her and in-
dicated the site and dimensions for a chapel which she wished to build in his
honour. Other supernatural visitations and a number of miracles are also attributed
to her. After ruling the convent for many years St Odilia died on December 13,
about the year 720.

Such, in brief, is the legend of St. Odilia about whose life the truth is as elusive
as the popular veneration of the saint is definite. Her shrine and her abbey were
the objects of a great devotion throughout the middle ages ; they were favoured by
the emperors from Charlemagne to Charles IV, and among those who were drawn
to Hohenburg by devotion were St Leo IX, while he was still bishop of Toul, and,
it is said, King Richard I of England. The pilgrimage was no less popular among
the common people, and St Odilia was venerated as the patroness of Alsace before
the sixteenth century. Tradition pointed to a spring as having been by her
miraculously called from the rock for the convenience of the nuns and their pilgrims,
and its waters were (and are) used for bathing unhealthy eyes while invoking the
intercession of the once blind saint. The same custom is observed by pilgrims to
the Odilienstein in Breisgau, where the rock opened to receive her. After under-
going many vicissitudes the shrine of St Odilia and the remains of her monastery
came into the possession of the diocese of Strasburg, and since the middle of last
century the Odilienberg has again become a place of pilgrimage. Her relics are
preserved in the chapel of St John the Baptist, a medieval building on the site of
the one above referred to as built by St Odilia herself : it is now more commonly
called by her name.

The text of what has been proved to be a tenth-century Life of St Odilia has been edited
by W. Levison in MGH., Scriptores Merov., vol. vi (1013), pp. 24-50 ; and cf. Analecta
Bollandiana, vol. xiii (1894), pp. 5-32 and 113-121. But even here in the judgement of
Levison hardly anything can be accepted as reliable history. At the same time St Odilia
continues to be one of the most popular saints not only in Alsace but also in Germany and
France. There is a considerable literature concerning her, of which an idea may be formed
from the references in Potthast, Wegzveiscr, vol. ii, p. 1498, and in DAC, vol. xii (1936),
cc. 1921-1934. Much information may be gleaned from different volumes of the Archiv /.
elsdssische Kirchengeschichte, as for example an article in vol. viii, pp. 287-316 on ” Das
Odilienlied in Lothringen “. For the most part the devotional lives of St Odilia, such for
example as that of H. Welschinger in the series ” Les Saints “, are historically unreliable.
This last even treats as a serious document the forgery of Jerome Vignier which was exposed
by L. Havet in the Bibliotheque de l’£cole des Chartes y for 1885. On St Odilia in art see
Kunstle, Ikonographie, vol. ii, pp. 475-478, and C. Champion, Ste Odile (1931). At the
time of the battles of Verdun during World War I, St Odilia became very celebrated in
France through the attribution to her of a completely apocryphal prophecy. It was again
current, though less widely, during 1939-1945.