Archaeologists have discovered the rock revered by early Christians as the place where the pregnant Virgin Mary rested on her way to Bethlehem, officials said Sunday.
The craggy limestone rock protrudes from the remnants of the floor of a fifth century, octagonal Byzantine church, the largest of its kind in the Holy Land.
The rock was unearthed after construction workers laying pipe for the controversial Har Homa Jewish housing project accidentally damaged the church’s foundation, spurring an excavation to make repairs.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Deodorus I, hailed the find Sunday as a “great discovery with historical, religious and ethnic significance.”
Gideon Avni, Jerusalem District Archaeologist at Israel’s Antiquities Authority, said Christians made pilgrimages to a rock, on the five-mile Jerusalem to Bethlehem road, at least 1,700 years ago, believing it was the place where the Virgin Mary rested on her way to Bethlehem, where she gave birth to Jesus.
Avni said the Church of the Kathisma - “the seat” in Greek - was built around the rock. Excavations show the church was destroyed and rebuilt at least once before it was finally destroyed in the eighth or ninth century and largely forgotten, Avni said.
Israeli archaeologists discovered the church almost by accident during the widening of the Jerusalem-Bethlehem highway six years ago.
In the past month, archaeologists dug down to the base of the rock, which is about six feet across and protrudes a few inches above the floor, surrounded by a low wall and a cleared area, indicating it was revered by pilgrims.