West of Jerusalem, near the entrance to Abu Gosh, archaeologists have uncovered a large Byzantine-era road station that included a church. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, archaeologists dug during work on the highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for upgrading and widening. The church and road station were discovered next to a spring known as Ein Naqa’a, on the outskirts of Moshav Bet Neqofa. The road station and church were found adjacent to a seep spring known as Ein Naqa'a, located on the outskirts of Moshav Bet Neqofa, said spokeswoman Yoli Shwartz. The church measures approximately 50 feet in length.
Shwartz said, “The church includes a side chapel 6.5 m. long and 3.5 m. wide, and a white mosaic floor. A baptismal font (bapisterium) in the form of a four-leafed clover (symbolizing the Cross) was installed in the chapel’s northeast corner.” In addition, excavators found bits of red-colored plaster in the rubble in the building indicated that frescos once adorned the church’s interior walls. “To the west of the church were rooms that were likely used as dwelling quarters and for storage,” said Shwartz said. “The excavations yielded numerous different finds, testifying to intensive activity at the site,” adding “These included oil lamps, coins, special glass vessels, marble fragments, and mother-of-pearl shells.”
Annette Nagar, who directed the dig, said that the church and the road station were built during the time Byzantine emperors ruled the area before the emergence of Islam. The buildings were erected on an ancient road between the Mediterranean coastal plain and Jerusalem. Nagar said, “Along this road, which was apparently already established in the Roman period, other settlements and road stations have previously been discovered that served those traveling the route in ancient times.”
“Included in the services provided along the route were churches, such as the one recently uncovered at the entrance to Abu Gosh.” Similar churches have been found at Abu Gosh, as well as Kiryat Ye‘arim, and Emmaus. It was to the latter city that the Apostle Paul was riding in pursuit of early Christians when he was struck blind and had a vision from God. “This road station ceased to be used at the end of the Byzantine period, although the road beside which it was built was renewed and continued to be in use until modern times,” said Nagar. By some reckonings, the Byzantine period in Israel extended from 313 A.D. to 636 A.D.