When the new town of Ma'ale Adumim was built in the Judean hills east of
Jerusalem, (1982-85) the remains of the large Byzantine Monastery of
Martyrius were uncovered on a hill in the center of the new town. The hill
overlooks the road climbing from Jericho to Jerusalem, as it did in
The Monastery of Martyrius was one of the many monasteries, housing
hundreds of monks, which were founded in the Judean Desert during
Byzantine times. According to a contemporary source, Martyrius was born in
present-day Turkey) and arrived in the year 457 at the Monastery of
Euthymius east of Jerusalem. He left that crowded monastery and lived as a
hermit in a nearby cave. Later he served as a priest of the Church of the
Holy Sepulcher, and as Patriarch of Jerusalem (478-486). During this
period he probably built and supported the monastery bearing his name.
The compound of the Monastery of Martyrius is almost a square, with an
area of 2.5 acres, completely surrounded by walls which have been
preserved to a height of two meters.
The gate to the monastery was located in its eastern wall; sockets with
iron bases (for wooden doors) have been preserved. A round rolling-stone,
2.5 m. in diameter, was found in place inside the gate, probably for
additional protection. Numerous rock-cut cisterns and a network of canals,
collecting and chanelling rainwater into the cisterns, assured the water
supply in this semi-arid area.
Built around a large central courtyard, the monastery complex included
many rooms, a church, several chapels, a refectory, a kitchen, a
storeroom, a bathhouse, an enclosure with stalls and mangers for animals
and, outside the wall, a hostel.
The main church, 25.5 x 6.6 m. in size, was paved in colorful mosaics in
round and hexagonal frames with depictions of animals; unfortunately, very
little has survived. A Greek inscription mentions the abbots Genesius and
Iohannes, in whose memory the church was built.
On the northern side of the monastery complex, a cave, reached by several
steps, contained a number of skeletons. A mosaic inscription in Greek
mentions the names of three priests who were buried there. It is assumed
that the monk Martyrius dwelt in this cave before being appointed to the
church hierarchy in Jerusalem.
The large (31 x 25 m.) refectory (dining room), is surrounded by
stone-built benches and divided by two rows of columns which supported the
second story. The floor is covered with magnificent, colorful mosaics of
geometrical designs, preserved intact. A Greek inscription reads: "During
the time of our holy father Genesius, presbyter [church elder] and
archimandrite [abbot], this work too was done for his salvation and for
the salvation of his brethren in Christ. This work was completed in the
month of March, in the first year of the indiction."
The kitchen (21 x 6 m.), next to the refectory, was also paved with
mosaics and contained marble tables. Hundreds of ceramic vessels,
metalware, grinding utensils, cooking pots and many pottery wine cups were
found here. The bathhouse had a hot room, the floor of which rested on low
brick columns, and a pool adjacent to it.
Outside the monastery complex, near the main gate, a hostel (43 x 20 m.)
with a chapel, bedrooms and stables catered to the needs of the many
pilgrims who came to visit. Such hostels are
mentioned in contemporary sources as an important factor in the
monasticism of the Byzantine
The monastery was damaged during the Persian invasion of 614 and was
abandoned after the Arab conquest in the mid-7th century.
The site was excavated by Y. Magen on behalf of the Isarel Antiquities Authority.