A 1,300-year old church with ornate mosaic floors was recently uncovered in an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in the Circassian village of Kfar Kama, near Kfar Tavor, in Lower Galilee. The excavation, led by archaeologist Nurit Feig on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with Prof. Moti Aviam of the Kinneret Academic College, and with assistance from local volunteers, preceded the construction of a playground. Under Israeli law, every construction must start with an excavation, seeing as the country is rife with buried archaeological treasures.
According to Feig, the church, measuring 36 × 108 ft., includes a large courtyard, a foyer, and a central hall. There are three prayer niches – compared with most churches of the same era which offered a single prayer niche. The nave and the aisles were paved with mosaics which partially survived. Their colorful decoration stands out, incorporating geometric patterns, as well as blue, black, and red floral patterns. Feig noted a special discovery – a small reliquary, a stone box used to preserve sacred relics.
Several rooms adjacent to the church have been partially uncovered. According to a ground-penetrating radar inspection operated by Dr. Shani Libbi, there are additional rooms at the site yet to be excavated. The researchers have suggested “it is quite possible that this large complex was a monastery.”
The Catholic Archbishop Dr. Youssef Matta, Head of the Greek Catholic Church in Israel, visited the site and was inspired by the ancient remains.
In the early 1960s, a smaller church with two chapels was excavated in the village of Kfar Kama, and was dated by its finds to the first half of the sixth century CE. According to Prof. Aviam, “this was probably the village church, while the church now discovered was probably part of a contemporary monastery on the outskirts of the village.”
The new discovery hints at the apparent importance of the Christian village settled in the Byzantine period close to Mount Tavor, an area of primary religious significance for Christianity, identified as the site of the transfiguration of Jesus into radiant in glory upon a mountain. In 1876, when the Circassian Shapsug tribe first settled in Kfar Kama, they used the stones of the ancient village to build their houses.
The discovery of the church in Kfar Kama will contribute to the extensive research project on the Christian settlement in Galilee that is being carried out by Prof. Aviam and Dr. Jacob Ashkenazi of the Kinneret Institute of Galilean Archaeology at the Kinneret Academic College.