Churches & Mosaics Of Madaba

The modern city of Madaba covers its ancient remains to a large degree. However, remnants of its earliest settlement are preserved in the form of a low-lying mound and an acropolis that is visible in the town's cen­ter. Archaeological work in this area has uncovered architectural remains from the end of the fourth as well as from the first millennium BC.

In ad­dition, two tombs in the necropolis area to the west date to the rjth cen­tury BC while another, from the Iron I-Early Iron II period, as found on the slopes of the hill to the south of the acropolis area. Settlement of Madaba and its surrounding area intensified during the Iron II period. During this time the town was probably within the Moabite sphere of influence. As indicated above, the Bible and Josephus provide informa­tion on the town during the Hellenistic period. Nabataean and Roman remains are present in the form of inscriptions and coins minted at the end of the second and the beginning of the third century AD. During this time, as both Eusebius and Jerome indicate, Madaba was a part of the Roman province of Arabia. The main east-west colonnaded street (de­cumanus maximus; see Chapter 3, note 5) with its flanking public struc­tures, including a temple on which the Church of the Virgin Mary was erected, dates to the Roman period. A section of the street is preserved in the Madaba Archaeological Park. However, the majority of the ancient structures excavated to date in the city date to the Byzantine and Umayyad periods. It is these architectural features that are of prin­cipal interest here.


Over the past century and a half a large number of churches and chapels have been documented within the town of Madaba (fig. 7.2). The following paragraphs describe the most important ones. The Church of Saint George, located in the center of the town, is commented on first, followed by other churches and chapels between it and the Church of the Apostles on Madaba's southern outskirts.

Church of Saint George

The Church of Saint UTM coordinates: 0764782E/3512706N; elev. 804 m) is the present-day Greek Orthodox Church of the town of Madaba and houses the famous Madaba Mosaic Map. The modern church itself dates to 1896 but was built over the remains of a Byzantine church from the sixth century. The mo­saic map, which now forms part of the floor of the Church of Saint George, is dated to the last decades of the sixth and the first decade of the seventh century AD. The early church continued in use beyond the iconoclas­tic period (Schick 1995: 394). Because of the map, the Church of Saint George is the one that most modern-day pilgrims and tourists visit.

Church of the Martyrs / Church of al-Khadir

Ground plan of the Church of Saint The Church of the Martyrs. UTM coordinates: 0764865 E/3512575 N; elev. 780 m is known by the local Christians of Madaba as the Church of al-Khadir. It is now within the Madaba Archaeological Park, established in 1995 and located to the southeast of the Church of Saint George.

The church, which the German Evangelical Institute excavated in 1966, measures 32.15 x 16.10 m and consists of one apse, a nave and two aisles, three doors, and a narthex (porch). It dates to the sixth century. Although iconoclasts have damaged its mosaic floor, it is still largely leg­ible: the central section of the mosaic consists of scenes of hunting, fowl­ing, wine-making, and herding among rows of trees laden with fruit.

Church of the Virgin Mary

The Church of the Virgin Mary; UTM coordinates: 0764931£ /3512540N; elev. 790 m) is also now located within the Madaba Archaeological Park. It is built above a Roman period temple. The church has a round nave, a vestibule, and an elongated presbytery to the east. A pulpit was located in the southeast corner of its nave. This church has the privilege of being the first church in Madaba the mosaic floor of which became known to scholars. Inscriptions on this floor identify it as the Church of the Virgin Mary. The church dates to the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century, probably ca. AD 608, around the same time as the neighboring Church of Saint Elijah. Its inscriptions, however, are much later. An inscription in a round medallion within the church reads:

If you want to look at Mary, virginal Mother of God, and to Christ whom she generated, Universal King, only Son of the only God, pu­rify [your] mind, flesh and works! May you purify with [your] prayer the people of God.

The dedicatory inscription in front of the church's chancel reads:

At the time of our most pious father, Bishop Theophan, this most beautiful mosaic work was realized in the glorious and venerable house of the Holy and Immaculate Queen (Mary) Mother of God. Thanks to the zeal and ardor of the people who love Christ in this city of Madaba, for the salvation, and assistance, and remission of sins of those who have made offerings, and of those who will make offerings, to this holy place. Amen, 0 Lord. Finished by the grace of God in the month of February in the year 6274, of the fifth induction.

The first line gives the name of Bishop Theophan. This ecclesiastical leader of Madaba was unknown until the discovery of the mosaic.

There is no general agreement regarding the dating of this inscrip­tion. The year given is either 6074 or 6274, that is, from the creation of the world." This dating system is attested in Palestinian literature in the sixth and seventh centuries; it is also occasionally used in inscriptions. Di Segni chooses to read 6274; reckoning by the Byzantine creation era, this corresponds to AD 766/767 (Di Segni 1992: 256) and thus to the begin­ning of the Abbasid period.

A third inscription at the entrance of the church's nave reads: "Holy Mary, help Menas (your) servant." Menas was probably a benefactor of the church and the same person as the one mentioned in one of the in­scriptions in the Church of Saint Elijah

Church of Saint Elijah and the Crypt of Saint Elianus

The Church of Saint Elijah (UTM coordinates: 0764922E/3512529N; elev. 786 m) and the Crypt of Saint Elianus are located across the Roman street and to the west of the Church of the Virgin Mary. They are also within the Madaba Archaeological Park. Although the Church of Saint Elijah was largely destroyed by the time of its discovery, excavations, which archaeologists from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum com- pleted in the summer of 1994, have uncovered both sections of mosaic pavement and inscriptions.

The mosaic, which formed the floor of the Church of Saint Elijah, is well preserved in places. It contains three inscriptions. The damaged dedi­catory inscription within the nave of the church and near the step leading to the presbytery, reads:

Placed beyond the corruption which has overtaken all human na­ture, he who has brought back the people of Israel to the only truth, the prophet Elijah ... with zeal, in cooperation with prayer, has also built this beautiful temple ... of Leontius, the most sweet priest, true friend of peace, who has succeeded to the labors of Sergius, the friend of God and the caretaker who had gathered some gifts. Menas, [son of] Pamphilus, and Theodose, Algerian brothers, have become benefactors to them and to this humble city. Completed in the year 502, of the nth induction (Piccirillo 1992: 124).

The church, which is dedicated to the prophet Elijah, was completed in the time of Bishop Leontius, a successor of Bishop Sergius of Madaba (see Chapter 8). It is dated to AD 607/608. for the dating of churches in the north of Jordan, for example, at Gerasa/Jerash In the south, the dating system is different. Above (note 2), one of the differences relative to the dating of the Church of the Virgin Mary is indicated Another dating system used in inscriptions from Madaba and other sites farther to the south, e.g., Umm ar-Rasas, takes March 22, AD 106, as its starting point. It was at this time that the southern area of Jordan became part of the Roman province of Arabia, was assigned a governor and compelled to obey the laws of Trajan. As a result, the conversion rule to be followed is that "for dates between 22 March and 31 December we add 105 .... For those between I January and 21 March we add 106" (Meimaris 1992: 148).

The second inscription is a prayer to the prophet Elijah. It accom­panies a medallion, once decorated with a peacock, in the center of the nave and reads:

You who with your prayer set in motion, as is fitting, the clouds, bear­ers of rain, and who give mercy to the people, 0 prophet, remem­ber also the benefactors and this humble city (Piccirillo 1992: 124).

This inscription commemorates the prophet Elijah who ended the drought in Israel. It also petitions the prophet to remember the benefactors, probably those mentioned in the dedicatory inscription, and the city of Madaba.

Finally, another inscription, located at the entrance to the nave of the church, is based on the Greek version of the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures Psalm 65.5-6, "Holy is your temple, marvelous in sanctity.”

The church is a duplicate of the one in which the Madaba Mosaic Map formed the original floor. It probably went out of use before the iconoclastic period (Schick 1995: 394)·

The Crypt of Saint Elianus is located be­neath the Church of Saint Elijah and was connected to the latter by two stairways. The crypt consists of a single apse with niches to the east, north, and south. The dedicatory inscription in the crypt's nave reads:

The Christ God has erected this house at the time of the most pi­ous Bishop Sergius for the care of Sergius, the priest of Saint Elianus, the year 490 ... was paved with mosaics with the offerings of ....

The inscription informs us that the crypt church was built in Saint Elianus' honor by Sherry Hardin), during the time of Bishop Sergius, a predecessor of Bishop Leontius. It was built in AD 595/596. A small room off the south wall of the crypt's nave also has a mosaic floor.

Church of the Sunna' Family

The so-called Church of the Sunna ' Family (UTM coordinates: 0764972E/3512477N; elev, 790 m) is located about 50 m to the east of the Church of the Prophet Elijah and on the same side of the paved Roman street. Its original name has not been preserved. Although the church was known prior to 1993, the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum carried ~out new investigations within it at the time that the Madaba Archaeological Park was being established. Specifically, the remains of its mosaic floor were re-cleaned, photographed, and restored.

The church measures 29 x 16 meters. It has three aisles, a central apse, and a synthronon - a row of built seats, frequently stepped, on which the clergy sat in the sanctuary of a Christian church. Its presbytery, which is flanked by two side rooms, extends out into the nave as far as the second row of columns.

The church was paved with mosaics of fine quality that suffered iconoclastic damage. It was probably still in use during the iconoclastic period (Schick 1995: 395). It is presently closed to visitors.

Piccirillo dates the church to the first half of the sixth century. He bases his dating chiefly on stylistic affinities with other dated mosaics nearby (Piccirillo 1993a).

Church of the Salayta Family

The Church of the Salayta Family is located to the south of the Church of the Sunna ' Family. By the time it was excavated in 1972 most of its mosaic pavement had been destroyed, some of it by iconoclasts (Piccirillo 1992: 132). Parts of the remaining mosaics have been removed, the church has been completely reburied, and the area where it is located is now an empty lot. The history of the church is unknown (Schick 1995: 396).

Cathedral Church

The Cathedral Church (UTM coordinates: 0764743 E/3512275 N; elev. 798 rn) was named after its size. Its remains are located on a plateau on the southern slope of the ancient city's acropolis, partially beneath modern houses. Although the church's western and eastern ends have been exca­vated, it is still a promising venture for future excavation. At present, the area where the church is located is enclosed by a cement wall. It is thus closed to visitors.

Chapel of the Martyr Theodore

The Chapel of the Martyr Theodore was built on the southern side of the Cathedral Church's western sector in AD 562, during the time when John was bishop of the diocese of Madaba. It was constructed while work continued on the cathedral. It measures 16.35 x p m and its entrance, in the north wall, opened onto the central courtyard of the cathedral. A mo­saic in the central nave of the chapel displays the earth being watered by the Rivers of Paradise - Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates (Genesis 2.IO-14)·

Two other chapels, a Baptistery Chapel and a Lower Baptistery Chapel, are also associated with the Cathedral Church. The Baptistery Chapel is a rectangular hall with a traditionally oriented apse. A cruciform baptismal font is located in the hollow of the apse. The Lower Baptistery Chapel is a long and narrow room mea­suring 5.8 (up to the font) x 1.8 m wide. Its circular baptismal font is ca. 80 cm in diameter and nearly I m deep. Neither can be visited.

Church of the Holy Fathers

The Church of the Holy Fathers (UTM coordinates: 0764627 E/3512261 N; elev. 777 m) is presently located within the Madaba Archaeological and Folklore Museum on the southern slope of the ancient town's acropolis. However, it is not in situ. Originally located outside the village of Khattabi Yah to the north of Madaba, the church was moved from its original place to a former government Rest House in Madaba and then to the museum. It is a single-apsed church with a nave paved with mosaics. A par­tially damaged Greek inscription within a medallion of the mosaic reads: "Tomb of the holy fathers, Eustratius, Magnus and of the others who here repose" (Piccirillo 1992: 244)·

Aitha Chapel IT wal Chapel

The Aitha Chapel/Twal Chapel is also located within the Madaba Archaeological and Folklore Museum; this building is in situ. It has a mosaic pavement, dated to the sixth century, which was the floor of a family chapel divided into two areas by a chancel screen. The areas are at different levels: the raised presbyterium is square, measuring 4 m on one side. It shows a grid of leaves with a central medallion of a lamb nibbling at a tree (fig. 7.9). There is a damaged inscription at the step. The tenta­tive reading is, "With the offering [of] your [servant] Altha, this holy place was paved with mosaics" (Piccirillo 1992: 128; fig. 7.ra). The mosaic of the second, or lower, level of the chapel has a geometric design featur­ing several different birds, one of which is in a cage.

Church of the Apostles

The Church of the Apostles (UTM coordinates: 0764915E/3512059N; elev. 765 m) is located on the south side of Madaba, a few meters to the north of the King's Highway (Numbers 20.17; 21.22). The church is a basilica, measuring 23.5 x ca. 15.3 m, with a nave and two aisles. Three doors in the facade open onto a narthex with mosaics.

A beautiful mosaic in the center of the church's nave shows a wom­an as Thalassa, a personification of the sea. The woman is surrounded by sea creatures. An inscription in the central medallion of its mosaic floor dates the church to AD 578, during the time of Bishop Sergius I of Madaba. It reads:

O Lord God who has made the heavens and the earth, give life to Anastasius, to Thomas, to Theodore and to Salamano's, the mosaicist.

The signing of the mosaic by the craftsman is highly unusual!

The body of the church's sanctuary is well preserved and it contains one of the best dated and signed decorative programs of sixth-century Madaba. Two doors in the north wall of the church lead to two chapels that also contain mosaics. One of the chapels has a mosaic floor depict­ing stags, sheep, and gazelles between pomegranate and apple trees. In the second chapel, one mosaic is divided by four fruit trees in a diagonal design, with pairs of animals in between. A second mosaic in the same chapel shows three pairs of animals and an inscription that reads:

O Lord, accept the offering of those who have offered and will offer to the temple of Holy Apostles [built] in memory of the priest john for the zeal of the deacon Anastasius.

It is from this inscription that the church gets its name.

Prior to the construction of the church, a small chapel was built on the spot during the time of Bishop John of Madaba, ca. AD 562. The Church of the Apostles was later added to it.

Church of Saint John the Baptist

The Church of Saint John the Baptist (UTM coordinates: 0764747 E/3512402 N; elev, 800 m) is the modern Roman Catholic Church of Madaba. The church's designation is in keeping with the closeness of Madaba to Machaerus/Mukawir·


To get to Madaba from Amman take the Airport/Desert Highway south. After about 20 km, follow the signs west to Madaba. The town is about 45 minutes from Amman.

The Church of Saint George is located in the center of the town.

You may wish to start your visit there and then go on to The Madaba Archaeological Park. You may wish to end your visit at the Church of the Apostles. A ticket to the park is also good for entrance to The Madaba Archaeological and Folklore Museum and the Church of the Apostles.

The churches and mosaics of Madaba can be visited in a half day as Dead sea Area Full Day Tour  

Sundays and Greek Orthodox holy days are not the best days for visiting the Church of Saint George.