The Nea Church, Nea Ekklesia, or New Church of the Theotokos is a 6th-century Byzantine church that once stood in Jerusalem. It is sometimes referred to as “The Nea”. The church stood on Mount Zion near the Basilica of Hagia Sion and the Church of the Holy Apostles which was completed about 200 years earlier.
The church was erected in 543AD by Emperor Justinian I who reigned from 527 to 565AD. During the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614, the church was badly damaged and was further destroyed by an earthquake in 746. The remains of the church were used a few decades later by the Umayyads as building materials for building new structures.
Information about the construction of the Nea Church comes from two sources. The 6th-century Christian monk Cyril of Scythopolis wrote that the construction of the church was started by Patriarch Elias, but completed under Justinian who funded the construction at the request of Saint Sabas in 531.
The 6th-century historian Procopius wrote that Justinian dedicated a shrine to the Mother of God. The uneven terrain on Mount Zion meant that the architect, Theodoros, had to extend part of the hill to support the church. The choice of location held deep religious and political significance at the time, placing it at an elevated position and in close proximity to other sacred structures.
During work on a park (Garden of Redemption) south of the Jewish Quarter, remains of the church were uncovered. The remains were discovered inside and outside the Old City walls, indicating the size of the structure. Among the findings were two semicircular recesses, and two small apses.
The most impressive discovery was the church cistern which had six vaulted halls supported by large abutments. An inscription was found declaring the date of construction by Justinian. Today you can see a corner of the excavated remains incorporated into the Beth Shalom Garden and the excavated vaulted cistern ceiling incorporated into the Garden of Redemption.
The Nea had a longitudinal structure with a forecourt and adjacent hospital, pilgrims’ hostel, and monastery. On the south, west, and northern sides of the structure were exterior porticoes, and two large columns flanked the western entrance. In front of the entrance was a colonnaded atrium facing a circular courtyard that opened onto Jerusalem’s main north-south street or Cardo.
The exact details of the church structure are hard to piece together as there are few remains and sparse documentation of the church. But we do know that the Nea would have been the largest basilica complex in Palestine. Despite Justinian’s efforts to make the Nea Church as important as the Holy Sepulcher and Hagia Sion, through its size, splendor, and location, it never gained the same adoration as other Christian sites in Jerusalem.
The Nea Church features on the Madaba Map which is the oldest existing cartographic depiction of the Holy Land. The map was part of a floor mosaic discovered in the Church of St. George in Madaba, Jordan, and it was created in 560-565, about 20 years after the completion of the Nea Church.
Jerusalem is the largest city represented on the mosaic, and it takes a central position. The landmarks and monuments of the city depicted include the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Hagia Sion, and the Nea Church. The map served as a reference for pilgrims planning a journey to the Holy Land.
If you are interested in visiting the Nea Church, feel free to book a Jerusalem Private Tour