Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Rare, 800-Year-Old Seal Unearthed In Jerusalem

A rare seal of the Monastery of St. Sabas from the Crusader era was discovered in the Bayit VeGan neighborhood

By: Graham Sigurdson

Published: May 27th, 2014 in News » Israel

This week, a year after it’s unearthing, and following an extensive study to properly identify it, a rare seal of the Monastery of St. Sabas was announced to have been discovered in Jerusalem’s Bayit VeGan neighbourhood.

The seal was unearthed during a 2012 excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Horbat Mizmil site in Bayit VeGan. During the dig, the remains of a Byzantine period farmstead was discovered, which was later resettled during the crusades.

While most of the artifacts unearthed were that of simply farm life, a rare lead seal from the Crusader period, or bulla – as it is known in Latin – was discovered. The seal, which is now some 800 years old, was surprisingly well kept, with both a well defined figure on one side, and a Greek inscription on the other. The object, which was examined by both Dr. Robert Kool – of the IAA – and Prof. Jean-Claude Cheynet from France, noted that the seal had been stamped by the Monastery of St. Sabas, placing it in the Medieval period.

Dr. Yuval Burch, the IAA’s regional archaeologist, presented it to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalum, Theophilos III, who stressed its importance to the region.

The Monastery of St. Sabas, founded by an influential Christian leader of the monastic period, is still inhabited today, with some ten Greek Orthodox monks residing there.

The seal is adorned by a bust of a saint on one side, with an inscription naming Saint Sabas. On the reverse, a longer Greek inscription reads that “This is the seal of the Laura of the Holy Sabas.”

Dr. Kool noted that “the Mar Saba monastery apparently played an important role in the affairs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the Crusader period maintaining a close relation with the ruling royal family. The monastery had numerous properties and this farm may have been part of the monastery’s assets during the Crusader period.”

Excavation directors Benyamin and Dr. Benyamin Dolinka added that “this is an extraordinarily rare find because no such seal has ever been discovered to date.”

They continued. “Also, the object possibly contributes important historical information about the surroundings of the site in the Bayit VeGan neighborhood. The excavated farmstead may well refer to a farming settlement sold to the monastery in 1163-1164. The document, part of the archives of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher during the Crusader period, mentioned a farming settlement by the name of Thora, whose wehreabouts are unknown. It is quite possible the document refers to this site.”

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