The ruins of the Church of the Seat of Mary known as the Kathisma Church remain unredeemed despite their important archaeological and religious value. Had not a bulldozer accidentally uncover mosaic floor 1992 near the Monastery of Mar Elias south of Jerusalem (only two hundred meters from Ramat Rachel), the church might have been lost forever. Here stood a Byzantine church built in the 5th century and restored in the 6th century and again in the 8th century, later converted into a mosque. It was destroyed in the 12th C, probably after the defeat of the Crusaders. Since then its location was forgotten. The church apse points to the east, while the Moslem Minbar faces Mecca. The church stands on land owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate,
The name Kathisma, or Seat in Greek, refers to the resting-place of Mary, halfway on the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and dedicated to Mary Theotokos (God bearer). See Luke 2 4-5, Matthew 2 1-9, and Protoevangelium of James (17).
The name was saved in Arabic for the nearby open water reservoir, known by its Arabic name, Bir Kadismu.
The octagonal plan of the church (three concentric rings) surrounds Mary’s stone seat. There is an inner octagonal walkway (ambulatoria) where worshippers could view the seat and an outer octagonal hall with rooms and chapels. Mosaic floors were discovered in all the rooms and chapels and were later covered for protection. One mosaic motif was a date tree. Some archaeologists claim that the octagonal plan and date tree motif were the copied in the Dome of the Rock which is also octagonal, built around a rock and includes date tree mosaics.
The octagonal design of this church is similar to other churches in Israel:
- Church of the Beatitudes, Capernaum
- Church of the Annunciation, Nazereth
- Church of Nativity, Bethlehem
- Church of Mary Theotokos on Mount Gerizim, near Shechem (Nablus)
- St. Peter’s house in Capernaum
The reason that the church has not yet been opened to the public may be due to the competiton between Christian sects or because the site is just happens to stand directly on the old 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and Jordan.
The site is at present covered over and not open to the public.