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The Cathedral of Jerash Jordan

In the 4th century the temple of Dionysus was rebuilt as a Byzantine church now referred to as the ‘Cathedral’.... Know More!

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Jerash is renowned for its numerous churches, most of which are dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries. One of these most known churches is the Cathedral of Jerash, commonly known as St. Mary's Cathedral in Jordan, which is an old structure in Jerash, Jordan. The remains of the cathedral can be seen in black and white photographs.

This is the oldest known Byzantine church in Jerash and was probably built around 450/455 AD when the bishop of Gerasa was Bishop Placcus.

The Name of the Cathedral

The term "Cathedral" usually refers to the main church of a diocese, which houses the bishop's Throne. However, it is ambiguous whether the Cathedral of Jerash had this status at the time or not. Its significance as a central place of worship in the city may have prompted the introduction of the word. The American excavation crew who discovered this church in 1929 dubbed it the Cathedral.

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When was the Cathedral of Jerash constructed?

The Cathedral of Jerash was constructed in the early 5th century on the ruins of an ancient Roman temple as a result of the need for a place of worship when Jerash had become predominantly Christian by the 4th century. There are several more early churches nearby, but the cathedral is the most significant.

Construction and Structure of the Cathedral

The location of the Cathedral had previously been occupied by a pagan sanctuary, possibly devoted to Dionysos, the god of wine. During his reign, Bishop Placcus demolished the Temple of Zeus and used some of the stones to construct this church and the surrounding baths named after him. 

The first-century Dionysius temple was most likely abandoned in the third century when the site was exploited for bronze smelting. The temple's remnants were dismantled to the level of its podium shortly before construction on the new Cathedral structure began, and its architectural components, such as columns, were repurposed as material for the church's masonry.

The cathedral was built with materials saved from the ancient Roman temple, including columns recycled for the current structure. These remains demonstrate Byzantine architectural prowess and provide unique insights into the region's religious and cultural heritage. The magnificent architecture of the Cathedral may still be seen in what is left today. The primary entrance to the church is on the west side, through an atrium known as the Fountain Courtyard.

Eight more doors gave entry to the church, and the interior area was divided into three portions by two rows of columns, with an apse at the front of the church accessible solely to the priest.

The holes in the columns and walls may have been for attaching decorative plaster panels and bronze embellishments.

Visitors to the Cathedral of Jerash can tour the historic church's ruins, which include the central nave, side aisles, and apse. The majestic columns, arches, and elaborate carvings are evidence of the time's artistry. The site also provides insight into the religious practices and beliefs of those who worshipped within its walls.