Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Some 1,500 years ago, Christian worshipers living in what is today Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, visited a splendidly decorated church dedicated to the "Glorious Martyr."
On Wednesday, archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority showcased the Byzantine era church and its many mosaics in a new exhibit co-hosted by the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem.
Inside the church, archaeologists found a Greek inscription to an unnamed glorious martyr. Another inscription offered thanks for a donation received from Emperor Tiberius II Constantine.
The church's construction began during the reign of Emperor Justinian during the 6th century BC. The donation from Emperor Tiberius II allowed for the church's expansion between 574 and 582 BC.
"Numerous written sources attest to imperial funding for churches in Israel, however, little is known from archaeological evidence such as dedicatory inscriptions like the one found in Beit Shemesh," Benjamin Storchan, director of excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a news release. "Imperial involvement in the building's expansion is also evoked by the image of a large eagle with outspread wings -- the symbol of the Byzantine Empire -- which appears in one of the mosaics."
Other mosaics found inside the church feature fruit, leaves and geometrical designs. Archaeologists also recovered remains of elaborate frescoes and tall pillars.
While researchers remain in the dark on the identity of the martyr, the church's impressive features suggest he or she was quite important.
"Only a few churches in Israel have been discovered with fully intact crypts," Storchan said. "The crypt served as an underground burial chamber that apparently housed the remains of the martyr. The crypt was accessed via parallel staircases -- one leading down into the chamber, the other leading back up into the prayer hall. This enabled large groups of Christian pilgrims to visit the place."