Saint Stephen’s Church in Um AL Rassas -Jordan , a mosaic of religious harmony.

UM RASAS – In the desert plains southeast of Madaba, far from the bustle of modern life, lie some of the Kingdom’s most important mosaics and one of the earliest examples of interfaith coexistence in Jordan.

The highlight of Um Rasas, one of the Kingdom’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is Saint Stephen’s Church, part of a complex of churches built during Byzantine times and home to stunning mosaics depicting the region’s major cities over 1,000 years ago.

Just as remarkable as the colourful mosaic floor is the date of its creation: The mid-eighth century, at the time of Bishop Job, according to an inscription on the mosaic floor, placing its creation at the end of the Umayyad period and over a century after the arrival of Islam in the area.The church and the surrounding ruins of Kastrom Mefaa are a sign of a flourishing urban Christian community after the arrival of Islam; the town that was part of the bishopric of Madaba, thrived under Umayyad and Abbasid rule.The mosaics of the main church floor, preserved under a new visitors centre, portray the cities of Palestine on the western border and Jordan on the east.

On the northwest edge of the mosaic is a panel depicting Jerusalem, inscribed with the words “holy city”, followed by Nablus, Sebastis (Sebastia), Caesarea, Diospolis (Lidda), Eleutheropolis (Beit Gibrin), Ashkelon and Gaza.

On the east side are nine ancient Jordanian cities, starting with a large double panel of Kastrom Mefaa, indicating and perhaps embellishing its wealth and size. Kastrom Mefaa is followed by Philadelphia (modern day Amman), Madaba, Esbounta (Hesban), Belemounta (Maeen), Areopolis (Rabba) and Charach Mouba (Karak).

The church also features an inscription mentioning Mt. Nebo and the Memorial of Moses, and lists the name of wealthy benefactors who contributed to the new church floor. The inner frame, which depicts a river with fish, birds and water flowers, as well as boats and boys fishing or hunting, also portrays 10 cities in the Nile Delta of Egypt: Alexandria, Kasin, Thenesos, Tamiathis, Panau, Pilousin, Antinau, Eraklion, Kynopolis and Pseudostomon.

Many of the mosaic’s pastoral and hunting scenes have been carefully defaced by iconoclasts, the bodies and faces washed away from history and delicately replaced with tiny white stones.

But the geography of ancient Jordan and Palestine remain, centuries on, showing that interfaith relations have long been strong in the holy lands.

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