Biblical Archaeology Review 30:1, January/February 2004

Strata: “Get Thee to a Nunnery”

...High on a Hill Somewhere in Central Israel

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered skeletons at what they believe was a fifth-century A.D. convent—the first monastic complex to be identified with certainty as a nunnery in the land of Israel. The exact location of the find has not been disclosed because it is located in a military area.

The complex was uncovered during army exercises, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) was called in to carry out a salvage excavation, as the law requires. Excavations have now been halted by a group of Orthodox Jews, who for religious reasons oppose disturbing gravesites.

“We don’t know whether monks or nuns lived in many of the other monasteries we have found in the past,” Uzi Dahari, the IAA’s deputy director, told BAR. “Here we know for sure that this was a convent because we discovered an inscription honoring the mother superior, written in Greek, as was the custom of the time.”

Dahari said that as many as 20 nuns and novices lived in the convent. “There were also many female skeletons found in an underground crypt,” he added.

The convent remained in use until the eighth century A.D., when Muslims invaded the area. Archaeologists unearthed 8-foot-tall walls and near-intact mosaic floors whose icons had been destroyed by the Muslim invaders and later repaired.

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