Greek inscriptions/graffiti invoking the help of *Sergios (soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023), of the God of *Sergios, and of a saint whose name is lost. Found in the north and east complexes at the North Church of Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III). Probably 6th-7th c.
Inscriptions - Graffiti
Inscriptions - Inscribed architectural elements
Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Painted in red on a column drum. The editors offer a schematic drawing and an incomplete transcription of two texts. One of them is framed by a tabula ansata (H. 0.27 m; W. 0.33 m). Letter height 0.02 m. Found in Room 13 (the north complex).
+ Κ[ύριε] Σέργι(ε) ... β[οή]θυσον τῶ δο[ύλου σ]ου ... [τ]οὺς τέκ[νους]
'+ O Lord Sergios, ... help thy servant ... the children.'
Text: I. Nessana, no. 63.
Painted on a chalk block from the cistern in the east court (east complex). H. 0.22 m; W. 0.36 m. Next to our inscription there is a graffito in Armenian. Another face of the stone bears a painted inscription with the names Maria, Georgios, and Zenobios, which, however, are unlikely to refer to saints (see I. Nessana, no. 70). The stone was removed and deposited in the Palestine Museum in Jerusalem (now the Rockefeller Museum).
+ Κύριε ὡ θεὼς τ(ο)ῦ ἁγ(ί)ο(υ) Σεργίο(υ)
+ βοείθι το(ῦ) δο(ύ)λ(ου) Ἠλία
ἅγιε Μ[...]ε ̣ἐ̣λ̣έ[η]σ(ο)̣ν Ἠλία. Κύριε
'+ O Lord, God of Saint Sergios, + help Thy servant Elias! O Saint M[...]os have mercy upon Elias! O Lord, make him holy!'
Text: I. Nessana, no. 69. Translation: G.E. Kirk & C. Bradford Welles, lightly adapted.
The transcription and translation are according to Kirk and Bradford. Their readings in lines 3-4 are not entirely reliable: one can question whether the lost name of a saint ends with ε and whether the verb is ἐλέησον. The drawing is, however, of too poor quality to offer a plausible interpretation. The editors note that Kraeling advised them to complete the name of the saint as Μ[αρί]ε, a corrupted vocative of the name Maria. But this needs an assumption that also the masculine epithet ἅγιε was by mistake used in reference to the saint. In line 4 Kraeling preferred to read πνεῦμα ἅγιον/'Holy Spirit' rather than ποίησον ἅγιον [= ἁγίαζε]/'make him holy'.
Cult building - independent (church) Non Liturgical Activity
Cult building - secondary installation (fountain, pilgrims’ hostel)
Cult building - monastic
Prayer/supplication/invocationProtagonists in Cult and Narratives
Visiting graves and shrines
Other lay individuals/ people
SourceNessana/Auja Hafir was an important town (actually termed a kome/'village' in documents) in the southwest Negev desert, located on the caravan route from 'Aila/'Aqaba to Gaza, and the pilgrim route towards Sinai, and is sometimes identified with the site of the hostel (xenodochium) of Saint George, visited by the Piacenza Pilgrim (see E00507; for an alternative identification, see E02006).
The site was excavated by the Colt Expedition, led by Harris Dunscombe Colt, between 1935 and 1937, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Although the site had suffered serious damage during World War I, it soon yielded rich epigraphical evidence (more than 150 Greek and Nabataean inscriptions), and two invaluable collections of 6th-7th c. documentary and literary papyri, comprising several distinguishable archives. The first, smaller collection of papyri, was found in Room 3 of the South Church, the other in Room 8 of the North Church. It is thanks to these documents that the ancient name of the site - Nessana - was revealed.
The Colt Expedition excavated two churches. The 'North Church' on the acropolis, probably monastic and housing a martyr shrine, they dubbed the Church of *Sergios and Bakchos. It is now known as Church no. 1. It was the biggest sanctuary in the town, and the presence of numerous graffiti suggests that it was a popular shrine, while its papyri show that it had close relations with the monks of Mount Sinai. The inscriptions we present here, come from this establishment. The second church, excavated by Colt was the 'South Church', presumed to have been dedicated to *Mary, Mother of Christ. It is now termed Church no. 2. The Colt Expedition also mentions the 'East Church'/the 'Monastic Church', which is probably the one that had been explored by Woolley and Lawrence, now termed Church no. 3, and a local cemetery. Inscriptions of different kinds were found in all of these locations.
In 1987, Dan Urman resumed the archaeological exploration of the site on behalf of the Ben Gurion Univeristy of the Negev. His campaigns led to the discovery of three more churches in Nessana: the double church (= Church no. 4-5), and a small monastic chapel (= Church no. 6).
As for the history of epigraphical research, Auja Hafir had been surveyed by several scholars interested in inscriptions well before the Colt expedition. They were: the Dominican Father La Grange, the German military chaplain Father Hänsler, Theodore Wiegand and Albrecht Alt, and two more Dominicans, Fathers Abel and Tonneau. The epigraphic finds of the Colt Expedition were first published in 1962, in the first volume of Excavations at Nessana. The expedition's epigraphist, George Eden Kirk, who made the transcriptions in the field, was, however, unable to finish the edition due to his induction into military service. The draft was forwarded to, and revised by, C. Bradford Welles, who claimed responsibility for the final shape of the text. A small group of new fragmentary inscriptions, found by Urman's mission, were published by Pau Figueras in 2004. This collection, however, yields no new evidence for the cult of saints.
DiscussionAs suggested by the members of the Colt Expedition, the so-called 'North Church' comprises several buildings, the history of which can be accounted as follows:
A small church dedicated to Stephen and Sergios (the excavators deduced the names of the patron saints on the basis of Inscriptions 2 and 3 in E04333) was built at the site before 464 (for the date, see Inscription 1 in E04336), and at some point thia was termed a 'martyrion'.
Under the emperor Justinian, and probably with his aid, a large church was added to this establishment before 541, perhaps now dedicated to Sergios with his companion martyr Bakchos, but the old building ('martyrion') was still in use (see I. Nessana, nos. 24 and 25, the first of which is dated AD 584).
In 601, the baptistery and the north chapel were added to the Justinianic church (see I. Nessana, no. 17 which commemorates the completion of the baptistery). Other annexes probably date to the extension of 601 or are slightly later.
It is possible that the Justinianic re-building of the site was linked with the foundation of the Church of Sergios and Bakchos in Constantinople ($EXXXX), an event which is said to have fostered the cult of Bakchos as Sergios' companion. The presumed introduction of the cult of Bakchos to Nessana did not, however, prove to be successful, as the saint is hardly ever invoked in visitors' inscriptions (see E04345).
Kirk, G.E., Bradford Welles, C., "The inscriptions", in: H.D. Colt, and others (eds.), Excavations at Nessana (Auja Hafir, Palestine), vol. 1 (London: British Schools of Archaeology in Jerusalem, 1962), nos. 63, 69.
Figueras, P., "Monks and monasteries in the Negev desert", Liber Annuus 45 (1995), 425-430.
Meimaris, Y., Sacred Names, Saints, Martyrs and Church Officials in the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Pertaining to the Christian Church of Palestine (Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation, Center for Greek and Roman Antiquity, 1986), 19, no. 17; 118-119, nos. 643-644.
Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 121-135.
|ID||Name||Name in Source||Identity||S00023||Sergios, soldier and martyr of Rusafa||Σέργοις, Σέργις||Certain||S00033||Mary, Mother of Christ||Uncertain||S00518||Saints, unnamed||Certain|
Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Paweł Nowakowski, Cult of Saints, E04344 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E04344