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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Fragmentary Greek inscription discovered at the church of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) on Mount Gerizim (Roman province of Palaestina I), tentatively and probably wrongly identified as an invocation of Mary. Probably late 5th c. - 8th c.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

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

Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)

A church dedicated to Mary the God-Bearer (Theotokos) was built on Mount Gerizim, by the emperor Zeno between 484 and 491, following the emperor's repression of the Samaritan community. The church was surrounded by a stone wall which was later extended and better fortified by Justinian. It is not clear if, and to what extent, the church was damaged during the Samaritan uprising of 529 (for Procopius' description, see E04689; for Malalas' description, see E05727).

The site was explored by European surveyors already in the 19th c., and in the 1930s excavated by Alfons Maria Schneider. The excavations focused on a Justinianic fort (
kastron), 73.35 m x 62 m. At its centre was a central-plan octagonal church, with an apsed extension protruding to the east, built of limestone blocks. The church measured 37 m x 30 m, and, as well as the central octagonal room, had four apsed chambers. It is normally identified with the church mentioned by Procopius and Malalas.

The original floor-mosaics of the church were largely lost, but Schneider discovered a number of very fragmentary dedicatory inscriptions, epitaphs, and invocations. One of the epitaphs mentions the 9th indiction year under the emperor Phokas (= AD 605/606), and the most famous find is an inscribed fragment of a stone reliquary, saying that it contained a rock from Golgotha. Among the preserved inscriptions there were virtually none referring explicitly to Mary, except for one fragment tentatively interpreted by Schneider as Θ(εοτόκε), β(οήθει)/'O God-Bearer (
Theotokos), help!' (see p. 228).

In 1990 Leah Di Segni published a reassessment of Schneider's inscriptions enriched with several new finds. She re-interpreted his 'invocation of Mary' as an invocation of God θ(εὸς), β(οήθει)/'God, help!', and suggested that some (if not the majority) of the inscription may be pre-Christian (Samaritan) invocations of God.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity



Di Segni, L., "The church of Mary Theotokos on Mount Gerizim: the inscriptions", in: G.C. Bottini, L. Di Segni, E. Alliata (eds.), Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land. New Discoveries. Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo (Jerusalem: Franciscan Print. Press, 1990), 343-350.

Schneider, A.M., "Römische und byzantinische Bauten auf dem Garizim",
Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina-Vereins 68 (1951), 228-231.

Bagatti, B., "[Note in the Chronique archéologique]",
La Revue biblique (1962), 418-420 and Plate XLVIIIb.

Reference works:
Bulletin épigraphique (1955), 246.


Drawing of inscriptions. From: Schneider 1951, 230.

Plan of the church. From: Schneider 1951, 221.

Record Created By

Paweł Nowakowski

Date of Entry


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristUncertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Paweł Nowakowski, Cult of Saints, E04415 -