The Byzantine period is the next period we look at in this Temple Mount series. Up until recently, it was thought that the Temple Mount lay desolate during this time and was used as the city’s garbage dump. However, this may not be altogether accurate.
In 324 AD, the Emperor Constantine the First made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and together with his mother, Queen Helena, consecrated sites in the Holy Land associated with the life of Jesus. In Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the site assumed to have been the burial place of Christ. It was the first and only time during Jerusalem’s long history that the focus of the city was shifted away from the Temple Mount to this newly built church, effectively denying any Jewish connection with the city.
However, the reported finding of part of a Byzantine mosaic floor under the al-Aqsa Mosque in excavations carried out here in the 1930s (the only time that such activity was allowed on the Mount), points to the possible existence of houses at the southern part of the Mount during the Byzantine period.
Regrettably, the limited finds make it impossible to draw any firm conclusions as to the extent of the built-up area.
There are, however, other signs that the southern part of the Temple Mount was used at that time. A large monastery, the so-called Monastery of the Virgin, was excavated near the Triple Gate. In its courtyard, a three-seater toilet was found that was flushed with the water of one of the Temple Mount cisterns, namely Cistern 10.
The water from this cistern was led to the monastery through a tunnel that had been carved specially for this purpose.
Finally, on the inside of the southeast corner of the Temple Mount that has been preserved to a great height, is the chapel of the so-called Cradle of Jesus (Arabic: Sidna Issa). There is a small shrine inside this room. The photo below shows the small Muslim dome that was built over a Byzantine altar that has four marble pillars and a reliquary underneath. This may have been the shrine where the nuns of the Monastery of the Virgin came to commemorate the birth of Jesus.
The reconstruction drawing above is the 9th in this series that was made specially for our new Temple Mount guide book that is awaiting publication. For the previous drawings see: Mount Moriah, Jebusites, Solomon, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, the Hellenistic and Hasmonean periods , the Herodian period and the Roman period.