JERUSALEM, ISRAEL -- Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a 1,500-year-old church from the Byzantine era.
The team of Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologists discovered the church in a pre-construction evacuation, mandated by Israeli law, just before construction began on a new neighborhood.
The archaeologists describe the church as a large basilica nearly 70-feet-long and 40-feet wide, which served as a regional center for Christian worship.
"We've excavated a number of Byzantine sites in the region and none of them found a church," IAA archaeologist Davida Dagan explained to CBN News. "And here it looks like we've found the first church that may have been a regional church where people from the nearby villages would have come to pray here."
The sixth-century church is located between the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and Jerusalem. It was part of a large and important settlement in the region.
Archaeologists say artifacts from the site show the area had a flourishing culture and a thriving community. They say the mosaic floor they found is magnificent. It includes grapevines that form medallions in the center, with images of animals, inscriptions, and Christian symbols.
"We have a histogram that is like a monograph of the name of Jesus, which is quite unusual," Dagan continued. "It's very large, and we have the birds holding it up with a garland of flowers."
The mosaic will be painstakingly preserved, removed from the site, and then put on public display. The rest of the site will be covered over, something the IAA often does to preserve it for future generations.