Jeffery Bruno/Jordan Tourism Board/Aleteia
A six century Christian mosaic map uncovered in Jordan in the 1880s has been used by scholars to locate holy sites.
Jeffery Bruno/Jordan Tourism Board/Aleteia
A six century Christian mosaic map uncovered in Jordan in the 1880s has been used by scholars to locate holy sites.
MADABA, Jordan — In 1878, Christian communities began to move back to the ancient city of Madaba, which 1,500 years before had been a thriving center of Byzantine Christianity. In 1884, Orthodox missionaries began excavating the site of a sixth century church in order to rebuild. They hit one of the great finds in archeological history.

A floor mosaic of the entire Holy Land, pieced together just a few hundred years after Christianity was embraced by the Emperor Constantine, was meant to help pilgrims know where to go. Scholars have used it to find holy locations, most significantly the baptism site of Jesus and the cave where Lot hid after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Originally, it was about 65 feet wide and more than 20 feet tall. Now about 40 percent intact, it represents an area from Lebanon in the north to the Nile Delta in the south and from the Mediterranean to the eastern desert. It shows the Dead Sea with fishing boats, a wide blue Jordan River, an antelope and a lion. The most detailed section shows Jerusalem, which is at the center. Inscriptions are in Greek, since Greek culture dominated the Holy Land from about 330 to 750.  

There are ruins of 29 Christian churches in Madaba alone. With the rise of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries, Madaba was for a century an Islamic city. But an earthquake in the year 747 devastated it and it was largely abandoned until the 19th century repopulation.

Mosaics are still important in the region. On the outskirts, a workshop gives space for people with disabilities to create high-quality mosaics to decorate homes and churches. The workers use only stones from Jordan. One of their favorite images is the Jordanian Tree of Life, which represents Jesus.