(FreedomBeacon.com)- A third-century church believed to be the earliest Christian church in the world will soon be open to the public after the prison that was built on top of the site is relocated. The church, discovered under the Megiddo prison south of Nazareth nearly twenty years ago, contains the first known mosaic dedicated “to the God Jesus Christ.”
The Jesus mosaic was found in 2004 during archeological excavations that preceded a proposed expansion to the Megiddo prison. The Israeli Antiquities Authority’s initial excavation of the site was done with the help of about 60 inmates from the prison from 2004 to 2008.
And last month, the Megiddo Regional Council and Israel’s Prison Service decided to proceed with the relocation of the prison after a meeting with the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Archeologists will now be able to excavate the site further while allowing the church, along with its mosaics, to become a tourist destination.
In addition to the earliest mosaic dedicated to Jesus, the church also contains a mosaic featuring two Ichthys, or fish, which was the early symbol used to recognize the Christian church. Three inscriptions, written in Greek, were found in the church and deciphered by Leah De Signi from the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
One of the inscriptions explains that a Roman military officer donated the money to make the mosaic. Another inscription memorializes four women. The third mosaic features the name of a woman who dedicated the alter to Jesus.
Thus far, the Antiquities Authority uncovered the remains of another building as well as alleys. Experts believe the site includes the ancient Jewish village Kfar Othnai as well as a military camp belonging to a Roman legion.
Archeologists have also uncovered an oil press, ritual baths, water cisterns, a stable, as well as kitchen areas.
Yotam Tepper, who headed up the original dig told the Jerusalem Post that this site was an early Christian community long before Christianity was an official religion.