Monday, July 12, 2010

Nea Church of Justinian, 543 AD

Remains of the southeast corner of the Justinian's 543 Nea Church. The above photo shows the back right corner of the Nea Church in the illustration below.

Emperor Justinian (527-565) had the Nea Church (“nea” is Greek for “new”) built on the east side of the Cardo Street in the south part of Jerusalem. The Nea Church can be clearly seen on the Madaba Map. This 375 foot by 185 foot basilica, the largest church in Israel, was dedicated in 543. Justinian’s Roman court historian, Procopius, describes this massive church as not being built over a traditional holy site. It was built for some other purpose. It included a library, a monastery, a hospital and a hospice. Procopius says the structure was built with enormous cut stones on a huge platform which was supported by large underground vaults. The roof was built of very tall cedars and many large pillars filled the Nea Church, or basilica. For several reasons it appears Justinian believed he was building a new Temple to replace Solomon’s and Herod's. Every year on August 3 the whole Book of Kings was read. It is considered highly probably that the Nea Church was built to hold the Temple treasures taken from Herod’s Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. It is clear from the images on the Arch of Titus built in Rome after the 70 AD Roman victory to commemorate the Roman victory over Jerusalem that the candle stand and the trumpets from the Temple were carried into Rome. Josephus himself testifies to this fact in his book Wars of the Jews, book 7, chapter 5:
After these triumphs were over, and after the affairs of the Romans were settled on the surest foundations, Vespasian resolved to build a Temple to Peace, which was finished in so short a time, and in so glorious a manner, as was beyond all human expectation and opinion: for he having now by Providence a vast quantity of wealth, besides what he had formerly gained in his other exploits, he had this temple adorned with pictures and statues; for in this temple were collected and deposited all such rarities as men aforetime used to wander all over the habitable world to see, when they had a desire to see one of them after another; he also laid up therein those golden vessels and instruments that were taken out of the Jewish temple, as ensigns of his glory. But still he gave order that they should lay up their Law, and the purple veils of the holy place, in the royal palace itself, and keep them there.
They were kept in Rome until Rome fell to the Vandals. The Vandals were in turn defeated by the Byzantine Empire which recovered the Temple treasures and brought them to Constantinople. At this time, during Byzantine’s triumphal procession through Constantinople with the captives and booty taken from the Vandals, the Jewish Temple treasures where seen among the booty. Procopius, the Roman court historian for Justinian, records these events of his own day in History of the Wars, book IV, chapter 9:6-9:
. . . among these were the treasures of the Jews, which Titus, the son of Vespasian, together with certain others, had brought to Rome after the capture of Jerusalem. And one of the Jews, seeing these things, approached one of those known to the emperor and said: "These treasures I think it inexpedient to carry into the palace in Byzantium. Indeed, it is not possible for them to be elsewhere than in the place where Solomon, the king of the Jews, formerly placed them. For it is because of these that Gizeric captured the palace of the Romans, and that now the Roman army has captured that the Vandals." When this had been brought to the ears of the Emperor (Justinian), he became afraid and quickly sent everything to the sanctuaries of the Christians in Jerusalem.
This is a photo of the southern apse of the Nea Church. The location of this apse can be seen in the floor plan of the church below.
Forty-nine years after the death of Justinian and seventy years after the dedication of the Nea Church the Persians captured Jerusalem help from their Jewish allies. The Nea Church was plundered in 614 by the Jews and Persians. History records that all churches in Israel at this time, with the exception of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, were burnt by the Persian invaders and their Jewish allies. The fact that these churches were plundered is confirmed by the fact that the Persians captured from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher what the Christians thought was the “True Cross.” It would appear then that the Temple treasures taken to Rome by Titus in 70 AD and returned to Jerusalem by Justinian in 534 would have been taken by the Jews in 614 from the Nea Church. After the fall of Jerusalem to the Persians in 614 we lose track of the Temple treasures. What happened to them? Were the Jews silent about their re-discovered Temple treasure? Were the Temple treasures carried away by the Persians? Maybe melted down? Or, were the Temple treasures never located nor removed from their hidden compartments in the lower regions of the Nea Church? Are they still here today? By 617, only three years after their victory, the Persians betrayed their Jewish allies by expelling them from Jerusalem and returning Jerusalem to Christian control under the Byzantine Empire. Although plundered and burnt, the remains of the Nea Church continued to stand for several centuries since it is mentioned by pilgrim writers as still being in use in 634 and 808. In 870 a monk stayed there in what is called Charlemagne’s rebuilt Nea Church. (Realize the Persian invasion of 614 was not associated with Islam since it was in 622 Mohammed began to spread his new religion and had just entered Medina to convert the Jews. By 626 Mohammed began slaughtering the Jews and the Muslim “faith” was beginning to spread. Muslim war and conquest would arrive in Jerusalem in 638, a mere 21 years after the Persians restored Jerusalem to the Christians.)
There are six huge vaulted halls over 30 feet high under the remains of this church. Charles Warren entered and drew these vaults in 1867. Today an inscription has been found that reads:
And this is the work which was carried out by the generosity of our most gracious Emperor Flavius Justinian, under the care and devotion of the most holy Constatinos, priest and in the year 534/35.

Today's Old City wall is found built over the top of the remains of the southeast corner of what once was the enormous Nea Church.

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