Christian Presence & Byzantine Churches In Jerash

It is not known how and when Christianity first came to Gerasa or Jerash. However, Jerash  sent a bishop to the Council at Seleucia in AD 359. Thus, there would have been Christian presence in the city as early as the latter half of the fourth century.


According to present dating, the earliest of the churches, the so-­called "Cathedral" (see below), dates to the early fifth century on the basis of recently excavated coins," rather than any inscription. It is thought that the Cathedral was built in front of a miraculous fountain, believed to be the one mentioned in a text written about AD 375 by Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis (Jaggi et aI. 1997: 314) and often identified with the fountain in the structure s atrium. The fountain is thought to have become the center of the greatest complex of Christian buildings at Gerasa. The lat­est church at Jerash, dated to AD 6Il, is the one built by Bishop Genesius (Kraeling 1938: 172).


Jerash City - Hadyrian Arch Photo - Decapolis Jordan

The Joint British-American Expedition, working in 1928-1930 and 1931-1934, investigated the sites of eight churches, six on the west side of the river that flows through the city and two on the east. One site on the west contained three churches, another two; thus, the total number of churches explored was eleven, besides two large chapels and several small­er buildings, though the precincts in general and three of the churches were only partially cleared. On two of the sites further clearances were made in 1931 and 1934. Two other churches, which have not been exam­ined, are known to exist, one in the Circassian cemetery outside the walls on the east bank and one under a house in the village. The expedition realized that there may well be others that they did not record (Kraeling 1938: 171). In the late 1920S and early 1930S, when these churches were excavated, little attention was paid to the contribution of stratigraphy and pottery to dating such structures. The dates assigned to the churches thus come, for the most part, from inscriptions within them.

The Joint British-American Expedition dated the churches it inves­tigated from the late fourth to the early seventh century, with the major­ity built in the Sixth century. Some of them continued in use for another century or two, or at least into the eighth century and thus well into the Umayyad period.

Khouri (1986) lists thirteen churches and one chapel: Church of Bishop Marianos (AD 570); Church of Bishop Isaiah (AD 559); Byzantine

Church; Propylaeum Church (sixth century; mosaic floor dates to AD 565); "Cathedral" (ca. AD 365, according to Kraeling; but early fifth cen­tury according to Jaggi et al. [1997= 314]) and southwest. chapel (added in the second quarter of the sixth century); Church of Saint Theodore (AD 494-496); the Procopius Church (AD 526-527); Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian (AD 533); Church of Saint John the Baptist (AD 531); Church of Saint George (AD 529-530); Synagogue Church (AD 530-531); Church of Saints Peter and Paul (ca. AD 540); Mortuary Church (end of the sixth century); Church of Bishop Genesius (AD 611). To this list may be added the Church of the Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs, the Chapel of Elia, Mary and Soreg, and the Roman villa/church.

All these churches, with the exception of the Church of the Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs, the Chapel of Elia, Mary and Soreg, the Procopius Church, and the Roman villa/church are located in the western segment of the city and their vast majority dates to the sixth century. It is evident that excavators have discovered a number of churches at the site during the past number of years, and there could be yet more to discover! For now, there are a total of thirteen churches and/or chapels on the west bank of the River Chrysorrhoea, plus an octagonal one to the north of the city, east of the road leading to Birkenstein (see Clark 1986: 321). In addition, there is the Shrine of Saint Mary, built against the eastern ex­ternal wall of the Cathedral no earlier than the second quarter of the fifth century AD. On the east bank of the river there are four churches and/or chapels. A glance at the map of Gerasa (fig. 3.10) shows that several of the churches are situated centrally. Many of them, however, are on the site s periphery. Our description of the churches on the west bank will begin with the one closest to Hadrian s Arch at the southern extremity of the archaeological site.


Places On Jerash City Map:

  1. Hadrian s Arch
  2. Hippodrome
  3. City Walls & South Gate
  4. Oval Plaza
  5. The Cardo "Colonnaded Street"
  6. Macellum
  7. Umayyad Mosque
  8. South Tetrapylon
  9. South Bridge
  10. Umayyad Houses
  11. The Cathedral
  12. Church of Saint Theodore
  13. Nymphaeum
  14. Propylaeum
  15. Temple Esplanade
  16. Propylaeum Church
  17. Naghawi s Mosque
  18. West Baths
  19. North Tetrapylon
  20. North Colonnaded Street
  21. North Gate
  22. North Theater
  23. Church of Bishop Isaiah
  24. Temple of Artemis
  25. Three Churches
  26. Church of St. Genesius
  27. Saints Peter and Paul Church
  28. South Theater
  29. Temple of Zeus
  30. The Museum

Jerash - The Church of Bishop Marianos (AD 570)

The Church of Bishop Marianos (UTM coordinates: 0772370E/3574513N; elev, 570 m) is located 50 m to the north of Hadrian s Arch and 10 m east of the wall of the Hippodrome. It was built when the Hippodrome was already in ruins. It is a small church with one apse, measuring 13.50 (E-W) x 8.10 (N-S) m on the exterior. The church s nave is entirely cov­ered by a mosaic carpet. The raised chancel and apse also contain mosaics. The foundation inscription, located in front of the chancel screen, reads:

Under your most holy and God-guarded bishop Marianos, this holy temple was built and completed from the foundations, in the year 632, in the month of Xanthicus, in the third in diction (Gawlikowski and Musa 1986: 143).

The date corresponds to April AD 570 (The date given on the inscription in the Church of Bishop Marianos is 632 of the Roman calendar. This date corresponds to our year AD 570. This is due to the fact that Gerasa "dated its numerous official documents and coins according to an era also inaugurated after its liberation by Pompey or one of his officers .... Inscriptions dated by the era of Gerasa and simultaneously by indication and month, or by the year of tribunician power and consulship of a Roman emperor. A second inscription is located at the western extremity of the church, where the church s small porch is completely paved with mosaics, with an inscription at its center. A small room, a sacristy, along the church s northwest side also has a mosaic floor. Schick posits that the church was destroyed around the end of the Umayyad period, if not later (1995: 321).

Jerash City - Byzantine church Photo - Decapolis Jordan

Jerash - The Mortuary Church (end of sixth century)

This church (UTM coordinates: 0771989 E/3575238 N; elev, 607 m) is located in the southwest quarter of the city. It lays ca. 15 m south-south­west of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, close to the city wall. It is a "single hall" building, that is, one without aisles, terminating in an apse. The floor of the church was at one time covered by mosaics, which suf­fered from iconoclasts and time. An arch on the south side opens into a cave that was used as a burial place, giving the church its name (Kraeling 1938: 254-55). There is a plaque on the church s south wall, just east of the cave s entrance. It reads, "Gerald W. L. Harding 1901-1979. A Great Man & Archaeologist who loved Jordan." Harding was a former Director of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan; his cremated remains are buried in the church.

Jerash City - Mortuary church Photo - Decapolis Jordan

Jerash - The Church of Saints Peter and Paul (ca. AD 540)

This church (UTM coordinates: 0772025E/3575244N; elev. 608 m), like the Mortuary Church, is located on high ground. It is over 31 m long and was a tri apsidal basilica. A mosaic inscription in the middle of the nave gave the dedication and the name of Bishop Anastasius, the church s founder. A series of floor mosaics covered the body of the nave and both aisles. The church s main entrance is in its west wall. Its ground plan, the three apses, and the size of the chancel are like those in the Church of Procopius (Kraeling 1938: 251-54). The church continued in use beyond the iconoclastic period (Schick 1995: 318).

A single-apsed chapel is located along the northwest side of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. Doors lead to it from both the church proper and its western porch.

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul Photo -Jerash Decapolis Jordan

Jerash - The Church of Bishop Genesius (AD 611)

This church (UTM coordinates: 0772092 E/3575515 N; elev. 601 m) is located ca. 50 m west of the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian. An inscription within it dates its mosaic floor to AD 611, during the epis­copate of Bishop Genesius. It is thus the latest church built at Jerash. There is no indication as to whom the church was dedicated. The church was a basilica with a single external apse. Both its nave and its aisles were paved with mosaics (Kraeling 1938: 249). A rectangular room, also with a mosaic floor, is located along its southwest side. It is unknown for how long the church continued in use after 611(Schick 1995:318)

Three churches at Jerash shared a common courtyard on the west and were conceived as one unit. The central one is the Church of Saint John the Baptist. It is flanked on the north by the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian and on the south by the Church of Saint George.

The Church of Bishop Genesius Photo - Jerash Decapolis Jordan

Jerash - The Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian (AD 533)

The church (UTM coordinates: 0772162 E/3575476N; elev. 597 m) was built against the north wall of the Church of Saint John the Baptist. It is dedi­cated to twin-brother doctors, Cosmas and Damian, who were martyred in the fourth century. An inscription dates the mosaic within the church to AD 533. It reads:

Pray now, while venerating the beautiful pair of victors. In truth, they are saints who own the art allaying suffering. From now on those who make offerings will benefit through the elimination of misadventure in their lives.

The church has the most splendid floor mosaics to be seen in Gerasa. Moreover, it contains the only representational floor in the city that was not visited by iconoclasts (Crowfoot 1941: 132). The mosaics have been recently restored.

A baptistery, located between the apses of the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian and the Church of Saint John the Baptist, appears to be shared by both buildings.

Jerash - The Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian Photo - Decapolis Jordan

Jerash - The Church of Saint John the Baptist (AD 531)

This church (UTM coordinates: 0772164E/3575459N; elev. 597 m), had a basilica on each side of it. It measures ca. 29.50 (E-W) x 23.80 (N-S) meters. Its floor was paved with interesting mosaics, and glass tesserae from its walls were found in the apse and exedrae - semicir­cular recesses, often crowned by a half-dome, which are usually set into a building s facade (Crowfoot 1941: 97-99). The floor mosaic, now dam­aged, included images of the four seasons, plants and animals, and the holy cities of Alexandria and Memphis in Egypt. The church went out of use by the early eighth century (Schick 1995: 317).

Jerash - The Church of Saint John the Baptist Photo - Decapolis Jordan

Jerash - The Church of Saint George (AD 529)

According to an inscription in front of its chancel, this church (UTM co­ordinates: 0772158 E/3575444 N; elev. 597 m) was roofed, paved, and deco­rated with mosaics in AD 529. It was the first of the three churches to be built, and it opened onto a common courtyard. The other two were completed shortly afterward. The Church of Saint George continued in use after the earthquakes of AD 749.

Jerash - The Synagogue Church (AD 530-531)

This church (UTM coordinates: 0772191E/3575608N; elev. 620 m) is a sin­gle-apsed, three-aisled building. It stands on very high ground overlook­ing the Temple of Artemis. It was built only a few centimeters above the floor of a former synagogue. The distinctively Jewish elements at the west end of the synagogue were removed, the floor level was raised over the rest of the building, and the eastern end of the building was adapted to Christian liturgical ritual. The nave was paved with mosaics in the same style as other churches of the period (Kraeling 1938: 234-41).

Jerash - The Synagogue Church Photo - Jordan Decapolis

Jerash - The Church of Bishop Isaiah

The Church of Bishop Isaiah (UTM coordinates: 0772398 E/3575628 N; elev. 600 m) is located on a terrace immediately to the west of the North Theater. It is a tri apsidal building, measuring 27.25 (E-W) x 18 (N-S) m externally. The floor of the nave, side aisles and chancel area, but excluding the apses, was completely covered with mosaics made, for the most part, of locally available stone (Clark 1986). The excavators un­covered fifteen inscriptions while working on the church. One of them reads:

At the time of the most holy and blessed Thomas the Metropolitan, and Isaiah the Bishop. This place of prayer was consecrated, and built from the foundations, covered with mosaics, and beautified through the offerings of the most illustrious Berrios and Eulampia, salvation to them, and their children. In the year 621, in the month of Daisies, in the seventh induction (Bowsher 1986: 319)·

The church thus dates to AD 559. It continued in use beyond the icono­clastic period and was destroyed in the earthquake of AD 747

Jerash - The Church of Bishop Isaiah Photo - Decapolis Jordan

Jerash - The Byzantine Church / Chapel Artemis Terrace

This church/chapel (UTM coordinates: 0772434E/3575424N; elev. 599 m) is located on the terrace of the Temple of Artemis, as the name indicates. It appears to be a single-apsed building. It has not yet been excavated.

Jerash - The Propylaeum Church (ca. AD 565)

The Propylaeum Church (UTM coordinates: 0772538E/3575419N; elev. 584 m), built in the sixth century, is on the site of a colonnaded square that formed part of the processional way. The columns of the way were used as part of the church. Its mosaic floor dates to AD 565. Otherwise, the history of the church is unknown (Schick 1995: 316).

Jerash - The So-Called Cathedral of Gerasa

The Joint British-American Expedition to Jerash dated the so-called "Cathedral" of Gerasa (UTM coordinates: 0772389E/3575369N; elev. 594 m), built on the ruins of a temple, to ca. AD 365. The temple seems to have been built on a podium with an eastern staircase flanked by antae - the posts or pillars on either side of a doorway or entrance of a temple. From a typological point of view it must have been similar to the neighboring Temple of Artemis, but considerably smaller and most probably some decades earlier. Recent excavations at the Cathedral, however, have led to a terminus post quem for the church of the year AD 404 (Jaggi et al. 1998: 429). This discrepancy in dating indicates the importance of follow-up work on earlier excavations.

According to the Cathedral s most recent excavators, in the late fourth or early fifth century (in any case after AD 404), the Christians of Gerasa dismantled a Roman temple (to Dionysus?) down to the base of its podium. They erected on this site a huge church, the Cathedral of Gerasa. (Although called a cathedral, there is no evidence that this church was any more important than others in the city) The earlier building determined the size of the Cathedral, since the width of the nave and the aisles was determined by the width of the podium of the temple and its ambulatory (Jaggi et al. 1997: 427). Thus, the temple served not only as a base (in the strictest sense of the word) for the width of the church but also for its floor level as a whole, as the floor slabs in the nave lay more or less directly on the remains of the podium. Only in the aisles and in the east and west of the podium high fillings were necessary. From the beginning there was a choir screen on the line of the later bema, the altar area, but still without a difference in the floor level between the choir and the nave.

The walls and the apse of the cathedral were, at least in their upper sections, deco­rated with mosaics. This decoration seems to have been heavily damaged by a fire in the late sixth or seventh century. During the succeeding repairs, the workers removed the stone pavement of the nave, shortened the church by building a new west wall on the line of the fifth pair of columns and (from there) recovered the remaining mosa­ics. They replaced the existing choir screen by two steps to the altar area and reached the new floor level in the choir by filling in masses of debris. A mortar floor was put in the new nave (Jaggi et al. 1997: 316).

The Cathedral has a south and a north porch, or narthex. In addition, there is a chapel along its southwest side.

The building was approached by a large staircase ascending directly from the west side of the main north-south  street (cardo maximus) of the city. The staircase passed the Shrine of Saint Mary, located against the Cathedral s outer east wall. The shrine bears a painted inscrip­tion to Mary and the archangels Michael and Gabriel.

The main door of the Cathedral opened to the west onto a colonnad­ed courtyard or paved plaza with a square fountain. The courtyard and the fountain in its center are often referred to as the Fountain Court. It is this fountain that has been as­sociated with the story of Bishop Epiphanius in which he related, in AD 375, the annual miracle of the fountain spouting wine instead of water. This association gave rise to an initial earlier date for the Cathedral. The Church of Saint Theodore (AD 494-496)

The Church of Saint Theodore lies to the west of both the Cathedral Church and the Fountain Court. It is situated ca. 5 m above the latter feature. The church (UTM coordinates: 0772317E/3575401N; elev. 599 m) was almost the same size as the Cathedral and measured ca. 42 x 22 meters. It appears to have been built out of the remains of a single, heavy-classical building. Its apse was semicircular inside and polygonal on the outside. The aisles were slightly less than half the width of the nave. The apse, as usual, spanned the full width of the nave (Kraeling 1938: 219-25; Crowfoot 1941: 64-66). It has both a north and a south porch, a baptistery along its southwest side, a northwest and a southwest chapel, and a courtyard to its west. Schick thinks that it was destroyed in an earthquake before the beginning of the Umayyad period (1995: 316).

An inscription in the church reads:

I am in the resplendent abode of the victor, Theodore, immortal martyr, holy man, whose glory has flown upon the earth and in the deep abyss of the oceans. His body has been returned to the earth but his soul, in the immense heavens, shares forever the life of angelic choirs. He is an everlasting bastion, an invincible defense of the city and its present and future inhabitants.

Another inscription, carved on the lintel of the outer door of the church, reads:

I am the wonder and admiration of passers-by, because all traces of disorder have disappeared from here. In place of the dirt of the olden days, the grace of God has surrounded me on all sides. Once, animals tortured by sufferings were thrown here and gave out an unpleasant odor. Often the passer-by covered his nose, held his breath and escaped the nasty smell. Now, those who pass near this sweet-smelling place raise the right hand to their forehead and trace the sign of the cross.

The church is built right next to the Temple of Artemis, the city s main deity. As the Christians of Gerasa naturally were opposed to the pagan gods worshiped at the temple, the inscription proudly advertises the changes to the city, now that God was worshiped instead of Artemis.

Four churches are located to the east outside the Jerash Archaeological Park. They are the Church of the Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs, the Chapel of Elias, Mary and Soreg, the Procopius Church, and a Roman villa/ church.

Jerash - The Church of the Holy Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs (AD 464-465)

This church, built in the shape of a Latin cross and the only one of this ar­chitectural form in Gerasa, was dedicated to the Holy Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs. Like other churches in the city, it was oriented towards the east and ended in an external semicircular apse. It measures ca. 37 (E-W) x 31 (N-S) meters. There was a nave and two aisles in each arm of the cross. Doors led into the building from every side. It was richly appointed (Kraeling 1938: 190-91, 256-60; Crowfoot 1941: 85-87). The church, built in AD 464-465, was located at the north end of Gerasa on the east bank of the River Chrysorrhoea. One corner of the site is now oc­cupied by a house and the rest has been planted with trees. However, it was mentioned by many of the early travelers to the area. Apart from the date of building, the church s history is unknown (Schick 1995: 319).

Jerash - The Church of Elias, Mary and Soreg

No evidence is available for dating this church. It probably went out of use before the iconoclastic period (Schick 1995: 319).

Jerash - The Procopius Church (AD 526-527)

This church was built by a certain Procopius and its date has fortunately been preserved. It lies on the east bank of the River Chrysorrhoea on very high ground close to the southeast corner of the city walls. It was a basilica with a nave and two aisles ending at the east in three parallel internal apses, a chapel at the northwest corner, and an atrium probably at the west end. The date comes from an inscription within the church. It gets its name from an officer named Procopius under whose name it was built. Good mosaic floors were laid in both of its side apses (Kraeling 1938: 260-62; Crowfoot 1941: 70). According to Schick, "the church con­tinued in use beyond the iconoclastic period (1995: 319).