The Octagonal Church: End of The Fifth Century

Hypothetical reconstruction of the Octagonal Church

The key transformation of the sacred area occurred during the Byzantine era when, directly above the venerated room, an octagonal church was built, a new architectural form that had come to be used for sacred places linked to the most important Christian memories in the Holy Land.

All of the rooms of the previous structure were knocked down and buried to provide space for a church built in the form of an octagon and surrounded on five sides by an open portico. A series of accessory rooms was constructed behind the eastern boundary wall.

While the passage of time that transformed the village into ruins also left its mark on the church of St. Peter, of which few vestiges remain, investigations of its architectural form and the elegance of its mosaics have provided evidence of its original splendor.

Within the sacred enclosure, entry to the church was made through an open portico that surrounded the octagonal church on five of its sides. From the portico one could also enter the side rooms, the annexes nearest to the place of worship. The portico, covered by a canopy, was decorated with a black and white mosaic having a pattern of overlapping circles with a common central “button”.
Entrance to the church was through both the main door on the west and the side doors. The church had the form of an octagon, with an ambulatory surrounding a smaller central octagon. It was probably illuminated by a series of windows and covered by a pitched roof. The few remains of the mosaic pavement display floral and plant designs on a white background, representing a typical Nile region environment.

The central octagon of the church was constructed directly above the venerated room and was paved with an ornate mosaic featuring a peacock displaying its colorful tail, a symbol of the Resurrection and eternal life. The peacock was placed in the center of a circle and surrounded by flowers enclosed in overlapping semicircles. A red and blue lotus design formed the outer frame of the mosaic. The octagon, with its high beamed ceiling, was illuminated by light entering through the windows and by large lamps hanging from the ceiling. It is reasonable to assume that the walls would have been plastered and painted in a variety of manners. No trace has been preserved of an altar fixed against the wall, and it is possible that the liturgical table was of the “mobile” type not fixed in place.

The increase in the number of faithful soon led to the need for a baptistery. The place selected for this was on the eastern side and was connected to two new areas having a triangular shape, the pastophoria, which became accessory rooms for the performance of the rite. A breach in the enclosing wall was made in order to construct a projecting apse having sufficient space for the basin used for the rite of baptismal immersion.


The Octagonal Church at the end of the fifth century: the excavations

Hypothetical reconstruction of the Octagonal Church at the end of the fifth century