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A Smithy in a Crusader Church, Dan Bahat, BAR 6:02, Mar-Apr 1980.

A Smithy in a Crusader ChurchBecause my interest in the archaeology of Jerusalem is well known about the city, local residents often come to me with questions, finds and ideas.

Not long ago, I was asked to examine a blacksmith shop in the Moslem Quarter of the Old City. I am never reluctant to go on these excursions because I know from experience that there is much I can learn from such “archaeological” tips.

The street where the blacksmith shop is located is known as Aqabat Haladiyah; it is in the northeastern quadrant of the Old City west of the Temple Mount. When we arrived at the smithy we were welcomed by the two brothers who own the workshop, Nagi and Rafiq Baslamit. They courteously gave us permission to examine the structure in which they were busily shoeing donkeys which are used to make deliveries of heavy goods in the winding streets of the Old City.

The workshop has an east-west orientation. It is divided almost in thirds by two rows of three pillarsa each, each row of pillars running from east to west. On the perimeter wall, engaged pillars (pilasters) have been placed opposite each of the free-standing pillars. The twelve bays which are thus created—four in the central nave and four each in the side aisles—are roofed with cross vaults created by handsome ribbing. Around the walls and the engaged pillars extends a so-called running cornice. On the eastern wall, we saw two semi-circular apses, the center one slightly larger than the one beside it. A similar apse on the other side of the slightly larger center apse was no longer extant.

These architectural elements leave no doubt that this blacksmith workshop is housed in a Crusader church built in the form of a basilica—probably dating from the twelfth century. The orientation of the apses to the east (as in almost all early churches), the running cornice, the vaulted roof—together they are unmistakable signs.

Our initial efforts to identify the church failed.b A full description of the street on which the smithy is located is given by Père Vincent and Père Abel in their classic and encyclopedic description of Jerusalemc, but they make no mention of this building. We next went to scholarly maps showing Crusader Jerusalem, but were surprised to find that the maps left this section of the city almost empty; not one indicated a church where our blacksmith shop stood.
Could it be that here was an existing Crusader church that had completely escaped notice both in ancient and modern sources?

We decided that a thorough survey of the building was needed. The owners of the building were delighted that they were working in such a distinguished structure and were happy to cooperate.

The church is neither large nor small as Crusader churches go. The center nave is about 13 feet wide and the two side aisles are each about 10 ½ feet wide. The church is 48 feet long. The two extant apses are not precise semi-circles because they are wider than they are deep. Only the center apse protrudes on the outside of the building; it is contained in a rectangular chevet.d The smaller side apses are built into the eastern wall and do not protrude on the outside of the building. Original lancete windows are in the center and the northern apses (the southern apse has been reconstructed in a later phase). The center apse has, in addition to the windows, two niches. Similar niches have been noted in another Crusader church, but we have no idea what they were used for.

Our detailed survey of the building also revealed that the church has undergone three phases of construction. The finest work was done in the original phase. In the second phase the northern and western walls were apparently reconstructed; the quality of the new masonry and the running cornice is greatly inferior to that of the original phase—as can easily be seen where the running cornice of the second phase joins the running cornice of the original phase. In the third and last phase the southern aisle (including the southern apse) was rebuilt. This work was still more crudely done and the only barrel vault (in the south-west bay) belongs to this third phase.

Unfortunately we were unable to examine the floor of the church. At present the church is only about 19 feet high. The owners of the workshop claim that some years ago the floor was about six feet lower than at present, but that is the only information we have. So it is impossible even to estimate how far below the present floor the original floor of the church lies.

In our continuing efforts to identify our church in ancient sources, we have come across an ancient deed (dated January 1177) for the sale of a house in Jerusalem which was built against the Capitium of the Church of St. Julien. This Church of St. Julien has never been otherwise identified. From what we know about the location of this house, it appears that our blacksmith shop may well be identified with the Church of St. Julien mentioned in this deed, although the identification is by no means certain. In any event, we have found no better candidate to offer.

(For further details, see D. Bahat and Giora Solar, “An Unpublished Crusader Church in Jerusalem,” Revue Biblique, Volume LXXXV, 1978, pages 72–80.)

Akko Dig Needs Volunteers

Ancient Akko, Mediterranean port city for the Sea Peoples, and also inhabited in the Middle Bronze Period, 2000–1500 B.C., will be explored again this summer by archaeologists from the University of Haifa. 120 volunteers are needed during the 6 week session (July 15–August 31). Academic credit is offered for participation in the full season; 2 weeks minimum participation is required.

Volunteers will reside either at the Naval Academy in Akko or at the seashore site of Achziv. The $12 per day fee includes room and board. For more information write to- Dr. Austin Ritterspach, Department of Religion, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania 17022. Professor Moshe Dothan, Chairman of the Department of Maritime Civilizations of the University of Haifa and formerly Deputy Director of the Department of Antiquities, directs the project.

a. Pillars are square; columns are round.

b. Giora Solar joined me in directing the work.

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