Emmaus during the Byzantine period (324-637 A.D.)
During the Byzantine period a large church complex was gradually built over the house of Cleopas, venerated by Christians as the place of the breaking of bread by the risen Christ. This church complex consisted of two Basilicas and a baptistery (the complex was cleared out during the archaeological excavations in the late 19th - the beginning of the 20th cent.). Emmaus-Nicopolis was a big city, a regional center, and a bishopric. For the first time, the name of the bishop of Nicopolis, Peter, is mentioned in the list of the Fathers of the Nicaean Council of 325 A.D. The second bishop of the city known to us, Ruphus, was present at the Council of Constantinople in 381. Third, Zenobius, signed a decree of the Jerusalem Synod in 536 (see: Gelzer, ed., "Patrum Nicaenorum nomina", Leipzig, 1898, p. 123 (see here); Lequien, Oriens Christianus, III, 594).
The mosaic map of the Holy Land, dating from the 6th c. AD and discovered in the town of Madaba in Jordan, depicts Nicopolis as a major city, comparable in size with Jericho and Lod (Diospolis). (M. Avi-Yona, "The Madaba Mosaic Map", Jerusalem, 1954, p. 64; H. Donner, "The Mosaic Map of Madaba", Kampen, 1992, p.58)
Emmaus-Nicopolis upon the Madaba map (Jordan, 6th c.)
Numerous pilgrims were visiting Emmaus on their way to Jerusalem from the port of Jaffa (Joppa). Throughout this period, Nicopolis was the only place in the Holy Land, venerated as the New Testament Emmaus, in continuation of the tradition that had already existed during the Roman period. Nicopolis was identified both as Emmaus mentioned in the 1st Book of Maccabees, ch. 3-4 (the place of the Maccabee’s battle with the Syrian army) and as Emmaus of the Gospel of Luke. This is illustrated by the following texts:
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary upon the Gospel of Luke, ch. 24, text of the early 5th c. Quoted in: Cramer, "Catenae in Evang. S. Lucae", ch. 82, p.172, see: Vincent & Abel, "Emmaüs", Paris, 1932, p. 411, footnote 2, and "A Commentary upon the Gospel of Luke by St. Cyril of Alexandria", Oxford, 1859, p. 727-728:
St. Jerome, Commentary upon the Book of Daniel, ch. 8, verse 14 (text of ca. 407 AD):
The original text of the Vulgate, St. Jerome’s translation of the Bible into the Latin language, had the distance of 160 stadia between Jerusalem and Emmaus in Luke 24, 13. The testimony to this is found in the best and most ancient manuscripts of the Vulgate: F, O *, Y, EP, G.
← St. Jerome
As to the tradition of the Christian pilgrimage to Emmaus, the first traveller known to mention his visit of Nicopolis in the Byzantine period, is the Anonymous pilgrim of Bordeaux of 333 AD:
A souvenir brought from Emmaus by a Byzantine pilgrim:
a token made of earth from the Holy place,
bearing the image of the Jesus' apparition to the two disciples
(found in Samaria, today in Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
A miraculous spring of water was venerated at Emmaus, where, according to a tradition, Jesus had washed his feet during his earthly life. This spring was filled up on the orders of the Emperor Julian the Apostate, the persecutor of Christians, around 362 AD, but later reopened, and we find the mention of it in pilgrims’ accounts over the centuries:
“At Nicopolis in Palestine, previously called Emmaus, there is a spring which provides cures for all kinds of diseases for both men and beasts. For they say that the Lord our God Jesus Christ washed his feet in it after a journey. That man (the emperor Julian) ordered it to be covered with earth.” (St. Theophanes the Confessor, «Chronographia», 361\362 AD, text written in 9th century AD, PG CVIII, 160).
“There is a city now called Nicopolis, in Palestine, which was formerly only a village, and which was mentioned by the divine book of the Gospel under the name of Emmaus… Just beyond the city where three roads meet, is the spot where Christ, after His resurrection, said farewell to Cleopas and his companion, as if he were going to another village; and here is a healing fountain in which men and other living creatures afflicted with different diseases wash away their sufferings; for it is said that when Christ together with His disciples came from a journey to this fountain, they bathed their feet therein, and, from that time the water became a cure for disorders.” (Sozomen, "Ecclesiastical History", Book 5, ch. 21, written in 439 AD, PG LXVII, 180).
Very important is the testimony of St. Jerome himself, who visited Emmaus-Nicopolis in 386 AD with Paula on the road from Europe to Jerusalem:
The testimony of St. Jerome confirms once again the information about the location of Emmaus: between Lydda (nowadays Lod) and Beth-Horon, about 30 km away from Jerusalem. We can deduce from it also that the first Christian cult at Emmaus was celebrated in the house of Cleopas upon which the Basilica was later erected.
house of Cleopas, venerated at Emmaus, was considered to be the place
of his martyrdom. We find mention of this in "De situ Terrae Sanctae",
by the archdeacon Theodosius (written ca. 539 AD, ch. 139):
receive similar information from the 9th c. Archbishop of Vienne in
Lotharingia Ado, who compiled a Martirology based upon ancient
traditions and who places the memory of St. Cleopas on September 25:
Cleopas is mentioned as a martyr also in the list of the 70 disciples
of Christ composed by Jacob Bar-Salibi, and transmitted by Michael the
Starting with the 4th century AD we witness the development of the monasticism in the Holy Land. The region of Emmaus was not an exception. A famous monk called Abba Gelasios lived here in the middle of the 5th century:
"A cell surrounded by a plot of land had been left to Abba Gelasios by an old man, also a monk, who had his dwelling near Nicopolis. Now a peasant farmer under Batacos, who was then living at Nicopolis in Palestine, went to find Batacos, asking to receive the plot of land, because, according to the law, it ought to return to him. Batacos was a violent man and he tried to take the field from Abba Gelasios by force. But our Abba Gelasios, not wishing that a monastic cell should be ceded to a secular, would not give up the land. Batacos, noticing that Abba Gelasios' beasts of burden were carrying olives from the field that had been left to him, turned them by force from their course and took the olives for himself; scarcely did he return the animals with their drivers, having caused them to suffer outrages. The blessed old man did not reclaim the fruit, but he did not cede possession of the land for the reason we have given above. Furious with him, Batacos, who had other matters to deal with also (for he loved lawsuits), betook himself to Constantinople, making the journey on foot. When he came near to Antioch, where Saint Symeon's fame was shining with great brilliance, he heard tell of him (he was indeed an eminent man) and, as a Christian, he desired to see the saint. Blessed Symeon, from the top of his column, saw him as soon as he entered the monastery and asked him, 'Where do you come from and where are you going?' He replied, 'I am from Palestine and I am going to Constantinople.' He continued, 'and for what reasons?' Batacos replied, 'About many matters. I hope, thanks to the prayers of your holiness, to return and bow before your holy footprints.' Then Saint Symeon said to him, 'Wretch, you don't want to say that you are going to act against the man of God. But your way is not favourable for you and you will not see your house again. If you will follow my advice, leave these parts and hurry to him and ask his pardon, if you are still alive when you reach that place.' Immediately Batacos was seized with fever. His fellow travelers put him into a litter and he hastened, according to the word of Saint Symeon, to reach Abba Gelasios and to ask his pardon. But when he came to Beirut, he died without seeing his house again, according to the old man's prophecy. It is his son, also called Batacos, who has told this to many trustworthy men, at the same time as he gave the account of his father's death." ( The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Apophthegmata Patrum) , ed. Mowbray, London, 1975, text written in the 5th c., events of ca. 450 AD)
St. Sabbas, one of the Fathers of the monasticism in the Holy Land, founded a monastery at Nicopolis in 508:
“On returning to his own Laura, the sanctified Sabas found that the forty mentioned above, those prone to share in evil, had suborned others and become sixty. He was distressed and wept copiously at the damage inflicted on his community, and was amazed how envious and prompt is wickedness in effortlessly drawing the lax to itself. At first he opposed patience to their irascibility and love to their hate, controlling his speech with spiritual understanding and integrity. Subsequently, however, when he saw them grow bold in wickedness and resort to shamelessness, not bearing to walk in the humble path of Christ but alleging excuses for their sins and inventing reasons to justify their passions, he left scope for divine anger and withdrew to the region of Nicopolis, where he lived as a solitary for many days under a single carob-tree, living on carobs. On learning this, the bailiff of the place came out to see him and built him a cell in this very place; this cell, by the help and favour of Christ, became in a short time a coenobium.” (Cyril of Scythopolis, "Life of St. Sabas", ch. 35, text of ca. 558 AD; Cyril of Scythopolis, "The lives of the Monks of Palestine", Michigan, 1991, p.p. 129 - 130)
In 529 A.D., the Samaritan revolt started in Palestine. Harassed by Byzantium, Samaritans were irritated against Christians and destroyed many churches in the Holy Land. We have no direct evidence about the events that occurred in Emmaus during the uprising, but according to the archaeological data, the church complex built here during the 4th-5th cent., was rebuilt during the 6th. The reason for this could be the destruction of it in 529 by the Samaritans.
Following texts bear evidence to the Samaritan presence at Emmaus during the Byzantine period:
(Vincent & Abel, op. cit., p. 408, "ספר הישוב", עורך ש' קליין, ירושלים, תרצ"ט , v. 1, p. 6)
John Moschos, "The Spiritual Meadow", 165 (text of 619 AD, events of the late 6th century):
At the distance of about three kilometres to the north of Emmaus, in the village of Shaalbim, some ruins of a Samaritan synagogue have been discovered. Mosaics from the Samaritan synagogue of Shaalbim in the region of Emmaus
(preserved at the "Good Samaritan" site near Ma'ale Adummim)
Several stone-carved Samaritan inscriptions found in the vicinity also testify to the presence of Samaritans at Emmaus. One of them, engraved in an ionic column capital, was found in the ruins of the southern Byzantine basilica. The inscription, which on one side is written in Greek capitals, reads: "Eis ho theos," meaning, "One God", while on the other side there is a Samaritan script inscription written in Hebrew which reads: "Barukh shemo le-olam" - "Let his Name be blessed for ever" (in the collection of the Carmelite monastery in Bethlehem). For more about this inscription, see: Clermont-Ganneau, 1er rapport, 3e série, v. IX, p. 292 and following, and v. XI, p. 251; Vincent & Abel, op. cit., p. 235, drawing XXV; Sukenik, PEF 1931, 22, footnote 2; Pilcher, "The Date of the Siloam
Inscription", PSBA, 1897, v. XIX, Bloomsbury. The discovery of the capital in the Christian Basilica must be explained by the fact that, after the suppression of the Samaritan uprising in the 6th century, their synagogue in the region of Emmaus was destroyed, like many others by the order of Justinian, and some of its stones were reused for the reconstruction of the Christian Basilica.
In the region of Emmaus two more Samaritan inscriptions were found, carved in stone and containing quotations from the Pentateuch: Genesis 24, 31; Exodus, 12, 33; 15, 13, Deutoronomy, 33,26 (The collection of the Betharram Fathers, Bethlehem, about these inscriptions see: Lagrange, "La Terre Sainte", 15.11.1890 and 15.03.1891; Lagrange, "Inscription samaritaine d'Amwas", RB 1893, p. 115 and following (see here), M. De Vogüe, "Nouvelle inscription samaritaine d'Amwas" , RB 1896, p. 433 and following (see here); J.-B. Frey, "Corpus Inscriptiorum Judaicorum", v. II, Roma, 1952, № 1185).
A Samaritan inscription from Emmaus:
יהוה גיבור במלחמה יהוה\ שמו יהוה נחיתו\ בא ברוך יהוה\ אין כאל ישורון
The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. (Ex. 15:3)
LORD, you lead him (Ex. 15:13a)
Come, you who are blessed by the LORD (Gn. 24:31a)
There is none like the God of Yeshurun (Dt. 33, 26)
From the archaeological point of view, the Emmaus’ Byzantine period is represented by the ruins of two Basilicas. In the northern Basilica, the baptistery with water reservoir is well-preserved.
The Eastern (back) wall of the southern Basilica, with its three apses, has survived.
Byzantine baptistery at Emmaus →
Plan of the archaeological site of Emmaus:
In both Basilicas, magnificent mosaics with geometrical patterns and inscriptions in Greek with names of benefactors were found. In the northern nave of the southern Basilica, a "Nile" style mosaic portraying birds, animals and flowers was discovered.
In the collection of the Latrun Monastery and on the territory of the nearby "Canada" park, we can see beautifully carved cornices and capitals which belonged to the southern Basilica. Two large fragments of columns and two Ionic capitals made of blue marble which belonged to the northern Basilica have also survived.
Both Basilicas, dating from the 6-7 centuries AD, were built on the site of an older church complex (4-5 c. AD), the northern part containing what was probably the house of Cleopas while the southern had the miraculous spring of water, which was mentioned above. Inside the Southern basilica several stones, arranged in a semicircle, were found, which probably served as the foundation for the apse of the oldest church building, as well as small installations for pilgrims’ bathing in the waters of the miraculous spring. In the ground and grottos around the church compound of Emmaus, items dating from the Byzantine period were found: coins, jewelry (rings, bracelets, ornaments), ceramic and glass, ceramic oil lamps, etc.
Special attention can be paid to the marble slab found in a field west of the church complex, bearing an inscription in Greek: "In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, beautiful the city of Christians is" (kept in the museum of St. Anne’s Monastery in Jerusalem, see: Germer-Durand, RB 1894, p.255 (see here); L.-H. Vincent, "Inscription grecque chrétienne d'Amwas", RB 1913, p.100-101 (see here)).
During the excavations of the late 19th c. in the area of Emmaus there was discovered a tombstone
with a Hebrew inscription: “Mekom menuhato shel Elazar ben Yehoshua. Shalom me-Emmaus (אמאוס). Shalom” – “The resting place of Elazar, the son of Joshua, peace from Emmaus, peace” (now found in Jaffa Archaeological Museum).
(A detailed analysis of archaeological finds in Emmaus can be found in the following sources: Charles Clermont-Ganneau, "Archaeological Researches in Palestine during years 1873-74", p.483-493; Germer-Durant, "Epigraphie palestinienne", RB 1894, p. 253-257 (see here); L.-H. Vincent & F.-M. Abel, op. cit., p.p. 19-274; "Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie", v. 12, article "Nicopolis", Paris, 1935; "The New Encyclopaedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land", E. Stern ed., Jerusalem, 1993, article "Emmaus", v. 2, p.p. 385-389; V. Michel, "Le complexe ecclésiastique d'Emmaüs-Nicopolis", Paris, Sorbonne, 1996-1997 (thesis); K.-H. Fleckenstein, M. Louhivuori, R. Riesner, "Emmaus in Judäa", Basel, 2003, p.212-310; K.-H. & Louisa Fleckenstein, « Emmaüs-Nicopolis Ausgrabungen 2001-2005», Novum publishing, 2010).
It is unknown what happened in Nicopolis during the Persian invasion of Palestine in 614 A.D. Perhaps, the Southern Byzantine basilica at Emmaus was destroyed at that time. We find distant echo to these events in the account of the Rabbi Isaac Helo about his visit to Emmaus in 1334:
The Byzantine period in the history of the Holy Land and of Emmaus ends with the arrival of the Arab conquerors in 637 A.D.