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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

Two floor-mosaics with Greek inscriptions: one (of probably c. 550-600) invoking the intercession of unnamed saints for an 'abbot of the whole desert', a stylite, and other monks; the other, dated 762, commemorating the restoration of a monastic chapel (septe mone) dedicated to *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033). Found at Wadi 'Ayn al-Kanisah on Mount Nebo (Roman province of Arabia/Jordan).

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)

Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)

Inscription 1:

Mosaic panel framed by a circle and flanked by two fruit-bearing trees. Set in the floor of the nave, in front of the chancel screen. Diameter 1.22 m. Letter height 0.08-0.09 m. Damaged and restored on the right-hand side.

palm) πρõτον
    τῷ θ(ε)ῷ δόσω-
   μεν δόξαν, ἀμήν.
  καὶ εὐχαῖς ἁγίων
 δόͅει Κ(ύριο)ς τὸν μισθὸν τ[ῷ ὁσι]-
 ωτά(τῳ) κύρῳ Ἀβραμ[ίῳ]
τῷ ἡγουμένῳ κ(αὶ) ἀρχ[ιμα]ν-
 δρίτῃ πάσης τῆς ἐρή[μο]υ
  καὶ δόͅει τὸν μισθὸν [τ]ῷ
   θεοφιλ(εστάτῳ) ἀββᾶ Λογγίνῳ
     τῷ στυλήτῃ κ(αὶ) ἀβ(βᾷ)
  (palm) Ἰωάννι (palm)

5-6. τ[ῷ ὁσι]|ωτά(τῳ) Feissel, τ[ῷ ἁγι]|ωτά(τῳ) Piccirillo

palm) First we shall give glory to God, amen. And through the intercessions of Saints may the Lord grant reward to the most venerable lord Abraamios, the superior (higoumenos) and abbot (archimandrite) of the whole desert, and may he grant reward to the most dear-to-God abba Longinos, the stylites and abba (palm) Ioannes! (palm)'

Text: Piccirillo 1994, 525 with an altered completion of lines 5-6 by Denis Feissel from
CEByz, 897. Translation: P. Nowakowski.

Inscription 2:

Mosaic panel framed by a circle inscribed in a square. In four corners of the square there are images of vases labelled with the names of the Four Rivers of Paradise. Set in the floor of the nave, at its west end. Diameter 1.22 m. Letter height 0.08-0.09 m. It was inserted to the original pavement in the mid-8th c.

In four corners of the squarish frame:

Γήων, Φήσων, Τίγρης, Εὐφράτης

'Gihon, Phison, Tigris, Euphrates'

In the medallion:

palm) διὰ τῆς
τοῦ θ(εο)ῦ προνοίας
ἀνεκτίσθη ἡ σεπτὴ
μονὴ αὕτη τῆς ἁγίας Θε-
οτόκου ἐπὶ Ἰὼβ ἐπισ-
κόπου Μηδάβων (καὶ) Γεωρ-
γίου ἐγκλίστου. ὑπὲρ σω-
τηρίας τῶν καρποφο-
ρησάντων, ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ιε΄,
ἔτ(ους) ,ϛσο΄

palm) Through the providence of God was refurbished this reverend monastery (septe mone) of the Holy God-Bearer (Theotokos) under Iob, bishop of Madaba, and Georgios, the enclosed (monk). As a vow for the salvation of the donors, in the 15th indiction, the year 6270.'

Text: Piccirillo 1994, 528. Translation: P. Nowakowski.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)
Cult building - monastic

Places Named after Saint


Non Liturgical Activity

Saint as patron - of an individual
Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - abbots
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
Other lay individuals/ people


The church (or rather chapel), where the inscriptions were found, is a part of a small monastic complex, situated to the south of the peak of Siyagha (Mount Nebo). The complex has the plan of a triangle (36.00 m x 28.00 m x 37.00 m) and is surrounded by walls. The chapel lies in the east sector of the monastery. It has one aisle and an inscribed apse, measuring 6.50 m x 13.00 m. The walls of the apse were preserved up to a level of 2.00 m. Beneath the chapel there is a vaulted burial crypt, accessible by two staircases. Two tombs with bones were found inside it. Another two tombs were found in the southeast section of the choir, near the apse.

The floor of the chapel was completely paved with mosaics. The nave contains a large carpet mosaic framed by a border of gems and leaves. The inner field contains a mosaic with two trees flanking the medallion with Inscription 1 at its east end and vinesprouts encircling depictions of animals, birds, and plants that were damaged in a period of iconoclasm. In the mid-8th c. the west end of the inner carpet was exchanged for a geometric mosaic containing our Inscription 2. The apse was paved with a semicircular mosaic showing buds of roses and a rectangular one depicting two lambs flanking a tree.

Based on the pottery sherds from the site, the excavators established that the complex was abandoned in the 9th or 10th c.

The site was first surveyed by Félicien (Félix) de Saulcy (a French nobleman and explorer of the Holy Land, famous for the excavations of the Tombs of the Kings in Jerusalem) in 1863, during his second voyage to Palestine and Jordan. In 1881 the site was investigated by Claude Conder and in 1901 by Alois Musil. The work of Sylvester Saller and Bellarmino Bagatti, conducted in 1933 and 1936, resulted in the identification of our chapel. It was preliminarily examined in 1987 by Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata and excavated by Piccirillo in 1994/1995 on behalf of the Franciscan Archaeological Institute in Jerusalem.

The inscriptions were first published in 1994 by Michele Piccirillo with the aid of Leah Di Segni. Further comments were offered by Denis Feissel.


The inscriptions document two phases in the history of the shrine and stress its monastic character. Inscription 1 is contemporary to the construction of the chapel, one of the first building at the site, and has been stylistically dated to the second half of the 6th c. It invokes the intercession of unnamed Saints for local monastic leaders. The prayer is notable for the mention of Abraamios described as 'the archimandrite of the whole desert'. The actual meaning of this title is not clear. Piccirillo compared it with a passage from the Life of Sabbas the Sanctified (ch. 30) which says that Sabbas was appointed 'the archimandrite and lawgiver (nomothetes) of all hermitages (laurai) and hermits (anachoretai) of Palestine'/ἀρχιμανδρίτην τε καὶ νομοθέτην πάντων τῶν ὑπὸ Παλαιστίνην λαυρῶν τε καὶ ἀναχωρητῶν by the bishop of Jerusalem Sallustius in 491. Piccirillo concludes that a similar monastic supervisor could be active in the province of Arabia, or that Abraamios was one of Sabbas' successors, which would imply that our monastery was under Palestinian authorities. Ewa Wipszycka suggested to us that 'the archimandrite of the whole desert', can be actually a different designation of a monastic agent normally termed 'archimadrite and country bishop' (ἀρχιμανδρίτης καὶ χωρεπίσκοπος). The first recorded 'archimadrite and country bishop' is Passarion, founder of the monastery (koinobion) on Mt. Sion (ob. 428), who appears in the Life of Euthymios. The office was seemingly created by bishops of Jerusalem, striving to achieve greater control over monastic milieus in Palestine. See: Perrone 1970, 36-39.

Also in our database such country bishops appear in the context of monastic shrines dedicated to saints (see: E01984; E02664; E02691; E02821).

After Abraamios, the inscription mentions a certain Longinos, the first attested stylites in Arabia, and one Ioannes. It is, however, possible that 'stylites' is here merely a honorific title in the hierarchy of monks, and the man never lived on a pillar.

Inscription 2 commemorates the restoration of the chapel under Iob, bishop of Madaba, in the year 6270 of the Byzantine
anno mundi. The date corresponds to AD 762. An enclosed monk and unnamed donors are also mentioned.

The use of the Byzantine creation era is important for the interpretation of the date of one of the 8th c. inscriptions from the Church of *Mary in Madaba (see E02477).


Di Segni, L., "The Greek Inscriptions", in: Piccirillo, M., Alliata, E. (eds.), Mount Nebo: new archaeological excavations, 1967-1997, vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Stadium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998), 448-450, nos. 55-56.

Piccirillo, M., "La chapelle de la Theotokos dans le Wādī 'Ayn al-Kanīsah au Mont Nébo en Jordanie",
Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 39 (1995), 409-420.

Piccirillo, M. (with a contributions by L. Di Segni and E. Alliata), "Le due iscrizioni della capella della Theotokos nel Wadi 'Ayn al-Kanisah – Monte Nebo",
Liber Annuus 44 (1994), 521-538.

Further reading:
Di Segni, L., "The use of chronological systems in sixth-eight centuries Palestine",
Aram 18-19 (2006-2007), 115.

Gatier, P.-L., "Inscriptions grecques, mosaïques et églises des débuts de l'époque islamique au Proche-Orient (VIIe-VIIIe) siècles", in: A. Borrut, M. Debié, A. Papaconstantinou, D. Pieri, J.-P. Sodini (eds.),
Le Proche-Orient de Justinien aux Abassides : peuplement et dynamiques spatiales : actes du colloque "Continuités de l'occupation entre les périodes byzantine et abbasside au Proche-Orient, VIIe-IXe siècles," Paris, 18-20 octobre 2007 (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité tardive 19, Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), 12, 15-16 (for comments on the use of creation eras in late antique inscriptions), 21.

Michel, A.,
Les églises d'époque byzantine et umayyade de Jordanie (provinces d'Arabie et de Palestine), Ve-VIIIe siècle: typologie architecturale et aménagements liturgiques (avec catalogue des monuments; préface de Noël Duval; premessa di Michele Piccirillo) (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité tardive 2, Turnhout: Brepols, 2001), 360-363, no. 132.

Piccirillo, M., "The Province of Arabia during the Persian Invasion (613-629/630)", in: K.G. Holum, H. Lapin (eds.),
Shaping the Middle East. Jews, Christians, and Muslims in an Age of Transition, 400-800 C.E. (Bethesda, MD: University Press of Maryland, 2011), 101.

Saller, S.J., Bagatti, B.,
The town of Nebo (Khirbet El-Mekhayyat): with a brief survey of other Christian monuments in Transjordan (Jerusalem: Franciscan Press, 1949), 12.

For the function of 'archimandrite and country bishop', see:

Perrone, L., La chiesa di Palestina e le controversie cristologiche dal Concilio di Efeso (431) al Secondo Concilio di Costantinopoli (553) (Brescia: Paideia, 1970), 36-39.

Reference works:
Bulletin épigraphique (1994), 665; (1996), 504.

Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine
, 897.

Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 44, 1409-1410; 45, 2024.


Inscription 2. From:

Inscription 1. From: Piccirillo 1994, Pl. 25.

Plan of the monastic complex. From: Michel 2001, 361.

Plan of the chapel. From: Piccirillo 1994, 523.

Photograph of the church. From: Piccirillo & Alliata 1998, 360.

Photograph of the apse. From: Piccirillo & Alliata 1998, 361.

Mosaic of the nave. From: Piccirillo & Alliata 1998, 377.

Record Created By

Paweł Nowakowski

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΘεοτόκοςCertain
S00060Martyrs, unnamed or name lostἅγιοιCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Paweł Nowakowski, Cult of Saints, E02563 -