Domus Ecclesiae: The Fourth Century Layout

Hypothetical reconstruction of the Domus Ecclesiae in the late Fourth Century

An important transformation of the internal area took place towards the end of the fourth century: the venerated room became the focal point of a much larger and more organized sacred complex.

Through a new atrium (entrance courtyard) built to the east of the room and paved in white limestone, the faithful were able to reach the venerated place whose floor had been repaved with polychrome plaster, and which had been divided into two by a large central arcade supporting the new roof terrace. New decorative paintings covered the walls of the room: on a homogeneous cream-white background a range of aniconic subjects were depicted, including geometric panels, bands of colors, and bunches of flowers and fruits.

The Christians who came to Capernaum began to leave traces of their visit by scratching their names or the monogram of Jesus on the walls of the room. The pilgrims often came from far away: many of the graffiti are in Greek, while others are in Syriac, Aramaic and Latin.
Among these pilgrims, it should be noted, was the famous Egeria, who around 380 AD described this house of the “prince of the Apostles” (Peter) that had been transformed into a church.
The fragments of painted plaster and graffiti uncovered in the venerated room represent a remarkable discovery: their preservation is due to their having been reused to raise the height of the floor of successive churches constructed on the site.

The final stage of the rearrangement of the area was the construction of a massive protective wall separating the building from the overall village, which led to the destruction of several rooms. The access to the entire sacred area was from the north, facing onto a new arterial road.

On two sides of the new atrium leading into the prayer room, a flat area paved with beaten earth and lime was created, offering a solid surface for pedestrian circulation. A pair of rooms to the north of the venerated room probably served for storing liturgical accessories and the offerings of the faithful. The objects found in the other rooms of the insula are consistent with their continued use as residential areas.


the Domus Ecclesiae in the late fourth century: the excavations

Hypothetical reconstruction of the Domus Ecclesiae in the late fourth century