Nea Ekklesia of the Theotokos
The Nea Ekklesia of the Theotokos ("New Church of the Theotokos
Theotokos is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God...

") was a Byzantine
Byzantine usually refers to the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages.Byzantine may also refer to:* A citizen of the Byzantine Empire, or native Greek during the Middle Ages...

 church erected by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

 (r. 527–565) in Jerusalem. The church was completed in 543 and destroyed by an earthquake in 746. As scholar Susan Graham notes, “The Nea gave architectural articulation to a theologoumenon in Jerusalem, and conveyed, architecturally, a message regarding Justinian’s imperial policy, imperial presence in Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

, and a self-conception as a Christian emperor.”

Primary sources

Two contemporary accounts survive that describe the building of the Nea, but neither author has much to say about the shape and organization of the church complex. Cyril of Scythopolis
Cyril of Scythopolis
Cyril of Scythopolis - Christian monk, priest and Greek historian of monastic life in Scythopolis in the early years of Christianity . Described seven lives of Palestinian saint monks after his arrival to the monastery of New Laura in 555...

, a Christian monk who lived in 525–558, records that the church was begun by the Patriarch Elias
Elias of Jerusalem
Elias of Jerusalem was a bishop and Patriarch of Jerusalem from 494 until being deposed by Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I in 516 for supporting the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon. He was the main opponent of the monophysites in the Synod of Tyre....

 but left unfinished until Justinian allocated funds for its completion at the behest of St. Sabas in 531. A more detailed account of the church and its construction comes from Procopius
Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

, the principal historian of the sixth century and the primary source of information for the rule of the Emperor Justinian. In his De Aedificiis, he writes that “in Jerusalem he [Justinian] dedicated to the Mother of God a shrine with which no other can be compared.” The Nea was situated on Mount Zion
Mount Zion
Mount Zion is a place name for a site in Jerusalem, the location of which has shifted several times in history. According to the Hebrew Bible's Book of Samuel, it was the site of the Jebusite fortress called the "stronghold of Zion" that was conquered by King David, becoming his palace in the City...

, the highest hill in the city, near the Church of the Holy Apostles (built in 347) and the Basilica of Hagia Sion (built in 390). Due to the rugged topography, the architect Theodoros first had to extend the southeastern part of the hill and support the church with huge substructures. This account by Procopius corresponds with the excavations of Yoram Tsafrir, as well as a tablet uncovered on the vaulted subterranean cistern that securely dates the building to 543.

Mount Zion
Mount Zion
Mount Zion is a place name for a site in Jerusalem, the location of which has shifted several times in history. According to the Hebrew Bible's Book of Samuel, it was the site of the Jebusite fortress called the "stronghold of Zion" that was conquered by King David, becoming his palace in the City...

 was not a new site in Jerusalem for Christian patrons to erect their monuments, and as a result of past projects, monasteries, churches, and cult sites already existed there. Consequently the highest available spot for the Nea to be constructed was on the southeastern slope of the hill, a far way down from the hegemonic vistas afforded to the Basilica of Hagia Sion that perched on the mount’s peak. Yet by choosing this site, Justinian was attempting to position the Nea within the hierarchical power structure that was connected to the topographical highpoints of Jerusalem. There are numerous motivations behind establishing a building such as the Nea on a height. The limited accessibility and semiotic significance of heights afford political and ideological control to its inhabitants, who maintain a panoptic view of control over those below. Heights traditionally held religious significance as well, as attested in the numerous theophanic
Theophany, from the Ancient Greek , meaning "appearance of God"), refers to the appearance of a deity to a human or other being, or to a divine disclosure....

 accounts shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The decision to build on Mount Zion furthermore situated the Nea within the dialogue of the other two sacred religious buildings that occupied highpoints in the city, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians, is a church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a few steps away from the Muristan....

 on Golgotha and the Basilica of Hagia Sion on Mount Zion.

Form and function of the Nea

The Nea was a building of great complexity. Although the longitudinal basilica
The Latin word basilica , was originally used to describe a Roman public building, usually located in the forum of a Roman town. Public basilicas began to appear in Hellenistic cities in the 2nd century BC.The term was also applied to buildings used for religious purposes...

n structure was a relatively common typology for sixth century churches in Palestine, the forecourt’s arrangement, along with the placement of the adjoining hostel, hospital, and monastery remains problematic. According to Procopius, exterior portico
A portico is a porch leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade, with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls...

es on the south, west, and northern sides surrounded the structure. Two huge columns stood in front of the western entrance, which was preceded by a colonnaded atrium
Atrium (architecture)
In modern architecture, an atrium is a large open space, often several stories high and having a glazed roof and/or large windows, often situated within a larger multistory building and often located immediately beyond the main entrance doors...

. In front of the atrium was a round courtyard that opened onto the Cardo
The cardo was a north-south oriented street in Roman cities, military camps, and coloniae. The cardo, an integral component of city planning, was lined with shops and vendors, and served as a hub of economic life. The main cardo was called cardo maximus.Most Roman cities also had a Decumanus...

. Due to the sparse archaeological evidence and the obscurity of Procopius’ description, this plan is difficult to reconstruct. Despite the obscurity of literary details, Tsafrir has proposed that west of the atrium, there were monumental gates that opened into an area that contained a gatehouse and an arch. Beyond this, Tsafrir has hypothesized two semicircles: one would have connected the church complex to the Cardo
The cardo was a north-south oriented street in Roman cities, military camps, and coloniae. The cardo, an integral component of city planning, was lined with shops and vendors, and served as a hub of economic life. The main cardo was called cardo maximus.Most Roman cities also had a Decumanus...

, while the other was located across the street and provided access to the hospital and hospice.

In the interior of the church, the nave
In Romanesque and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral basilica and church architecture, the nave is the central approach to the high altar, the main body of the church. "Nave" was probably suggested by the keel shape of its vaulting...

 terminated at a large apse that was flanked by two symmetrical smaller rooms with apses inscribed in their eastern walls. It is unclear whether the nave of the Nea had three or five aisle
An aisle is, in general, a space for walking with rows of seats on both sides or with rows of seats on one side and a wall on the other...

s, but due to the unprecedentedly large dimensions of the church (approximately 100 m long by 52 m wide), archaeologists Yoram Tsafrir and Nahman Avigad both agree that while only two rows of interior columns have been uncovered, two additional rows would have likely been needed to adequately support the roofing structure.
In addition to being the largest known basilica in Palestine, the Nea also included a monastery, hostel, and hospital, as attested by Antoninus of Piacenza
Antoninus of Piacenza
The sixth-century pilgrim Antoninus of Piacenza, or the Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza, who described the holy places of Jerusalem in the 570s is confused often with Saint Antoninus of Piacenza, who is venerated as a saint and martyr in the Roman Catholic Church, with a feast day of 13 November in...

, who visited the basilica of St. Mary in 570, “with its great congregation of monks, and its guest houses for men and women. In catering for travelers they have a vast number of tables, and more than three thousand beds for the sick.” It is unclear where these other buildings were located. Based on archaeological finds of a southern revetment wall of the Nea church complex, and assuming that the complex was symmetrical, archaeologists estimate the overall width of the complex at 105 m.

The Nea and the Madaba Map

In addition to the contemporary literary accounts and archaeological evidence, the Madaba Map
Madaba Map
The Madaba Map is part of a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan. The Madaba Map is a map of the Middle East. Part of it contains the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem...

 preserves a sixth-century perception of the topography, cities, and monuments of the Mediterranean. The mosaic was discovered on the floor of the Church of St. George in Madaba
Madaba , is the capital city of Madaba Governorate of Jordan, which has a population of about 60,000. Madaba is the fifth most populous town in Jordan. It is best known for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, especially a large Byzantine-era mosaic map of The Holy Land...

, Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

, and has been dated from 560–565, less than twenty years after the inauguration of the Nea in 543 , and it is the oldest surviving cartographic representation of the Holy Land
Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...

. The map depicts the Mediterranean world from Lebanon
Lebanon , officially the Republic of LebanonRepublic of Lebanon is the most common term used by Lebanese government agencies. The term Lebanese Republic, a literal translation of the official Arabic and French names that is not used in today's world. Arabic is the most common language spoken among...

 in the North to the Nile Delta
Nile Delta
The Nile Delta is the delta formed in Northern Egypt where the Nile River spreads out and drains into the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the world's largest river deltas—from Alexandria in the west to Port Said in the east, it covers some 240 km of Mediterranean coastline—and is a rich...

 in the South, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Eastern Desert. The city of Jerusalem is given prominence by its size and the mosaicists’ devotion to the detail of its monuments. No city represented in the map is larger. The central location of Jerusalem in the mosaic further supports Jerusalem’s importance in the minds of the map’s creators.

A closer look at Jerusalem reveals a pictorial representation of the city and its surrounding landscape. It is depicted from a diagonal bird’s eye perspective with no topographical impediments. The city's two cardo
The cardo was a north-south oriented street in Roman cities, military camps, and coloniae. The cardo, an integral component of city planning, was lined with shops and vendors, and served as a hub of economic life. The main cardo was called cardo maximus.Most Roman cities also had a Decumanus...

s extend west from the Damascus Gate
Damascus Gate
Damascus Gate is the main entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located in the wall on the city's northwest side where the highway leads out to Nablus, and from there, in times past, to the capital of Syria, Damascus; as such, its modern English name is Damascus Gate, and its modern Hebrew...

, with the main cardo horizontally bisecting the walled city. The street is opened up so that each side of its colonnaded streets is equally visible. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians, is a church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a few steps away from the Muristan....

 is the largest building in the map, suggesting its importance in the city’s architectural hierarchy. It is situated perpendicular to the cardo on its western side. All components of the church – the rotunda, the basilica, the atrium, the eastern façade, and the exterior stairs – are visible. Although the Holy Sepulchre is geographically located to the north of the Tetrapylon
The South Tetrapylon -- which is greek for "four gates"-- is the intersection of Jerash's Cardo with the first cross street in the ancient ruins of Jerash in Jordan dated to the Roman period at the end of the 2nd century AD. Four niched pilasters formed the base of a former central monument....

, the main road running perpendicular to the cardo from David’s Gate, on the map it is situated where the decumanus should be. Not only does its size emphasize the church’s importance, its central location on the cardo furthers its reputation as the most sacred and popular pilgrimage site in the Holy City. The Nea is the third most prevalent monument in the city after the Holy Sepulchre and Hagia Sion, even though in actuality it was the largest church in Jerusalem. The hieratic scale of monuments leads one to question how the Nea functioned in relation to the other monuments within the topography of the sixth century.

The selective details of Jerusalem’s monuments reveal the Madaba Map to be concerned with providing the viewer with a topographical hierarchy of Old
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 and New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 places. When viewed as a rendition of Jerusalem that is reflective of the sixth century habitus of Jerusalem, the map reveals a conception of the Christian sacred spaces and their interconnectedness. The shift in Christian topography to the western part of the city is clearly visible. For example, the Temple Mount
Temple Mount
The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as , and in Arabic as the Haram Ash-Sharif , is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a religious site for thousands of years...

, the central religious monument to Jewish identity, is relegated to the eastern periphery of the city, eclipsed by the towering Christian monuments that occupy the center of the city. Yoram Tsafrir has identified this area to be an open esplanade, marking the place of the Temple Mount.

The map provides a guide for pilgrims and viewers to the holy spaces, supporting Justinian’s campaign to integrate the Nea as a sacred site that matched the holiness of the Holy Sepulchre and Hagia Sion. In order to provide access to the Nea, Justinian extended the cardo south to the Nea and the newly constructed Zion Gate. This decision undoubtedly had political motivations, for it situated the Nea on the main route for pilgrims traveling between the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Holy Apostles. Processions, stational liturgies, and individual worshipers passed between the Holy Sepulchre and Hagia Sion, thus including Justinian’s church, but the Nea still failed to gain a place in the Christian collective memory as a site that was as holy as the other two main churches. According to Antoninus of Piacenza, worshipers went straight from the Holy Sepulchre to Hagia Sion, only to double back to the Nea. Furthermore, by the 630s, Patriarch Sophronius
Sophronius was the Patriarch of Jerusalem from 634 until his death, and is venerated as a saint in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches...

 does not even mention the Nea in his review of pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem.

The Nea and Solomon's Temple

Justinian attempted to leave his imperial mark on Jerusalem by situating a building of unprecedented size and splendor within the context of Jerusalem’s oldest and most sacred monuments. Procopius’s panegyric . the de Aedificiis, is perhaps the richest source that survives which offers possible motivations for Justinian’s architectural restructuring of Jerusalem. A masterful work of propaganda, de Aedificiis was less concerned with extolling the greatness of the buildings that were constructed, and more so with celebrating the man who built them. In order to situate Justinian within the tradition of grand builders in Jerusalem, Procopius most likely modeled his account after the biblical narrative of Solomon's Temple
Solomon's Temple
Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was the main temple in ancient Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount , before its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE....

. There are several literary parallels between the two accounts, the most foremost being that, according to Procopius, both of the building projects were blessed by God. Furthermore, it seems beyond coincidence that the measurements of the Nea are roughly twice the size of the Temple.

Like Herod
Herod the Great
Herod , also known as Herod the Great , was a Roman client king of Judea. His epithet of "the Great" is widely disputed as he is described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis." He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including his...

’s engineers, who had to extend the southern end of the Temple platform, so too did Justinian’s architects; and just as Solomon imported cedars from Hiram of Tyre for the Temple’s roofing, Justinian had cedars brought in from Lebanon. Procopius alludes to the monumental columns Jachim and Boaz that flanked the entrance into the Temple when describing those that decorated the entrance into the Nea. Finally, there is an etymological link between the Nea and the Temple in Procopius’ work. The Greek word hieron, "temple", which is the term the New Testament uses to refer to the Jewish Temple, was appropriated and reinterpreted by Procopius, thus relocating the sacred term to apply to the newly built Nea. The implications of creating a new sacred space dedicated to the Virgin that attempted to appropriate the sacred mythology of Solomon's Temple are quite profound. Not only was Justinian’s attempt at producing sacrality charged with political motivations, but for sixth-century Christians, the Nea undoubtedly symbolized the supremacy of Christianity and the Virgin over the abandoned Temple Mount that represented Judaism.
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