Name of Object:

The church at Massuh mosaic


Hisban, Jordan

Holding Museum:

Madaba Archaeological Park

About Madaba Archaeological Park, Hisban

Date of Object:

Hegira, second half of the 1st–first half of the 2nd century / AD second half of the 7th–first half of the 8th century

Material(s) / Technique(s):



25 m x 15 m

Period / Dynasty:

Byzantine / post-Umayyad


Hisban, Jordan.


The church at Massuh lies 10 km north of Madaba in Hisban. During archaeological excavations in 1970 various phases of construction were revealed dating from the late AD 5th century (that is prior to the Muslim era, which corresponds to 16 July 622 in the Christian calendar), through to the AH 1st / AD 7th century.

Two layers of floor mosaics were revealed, the lower one, dating to the AD 6th century, had not suffered any iconoclastic damage. The upper layer, however, which dates back to the AH 1st / AD 7th century, suffered systematic and thorough iconoclastic damage, which had been subsequently carefully repaired by patches of larger sized tesserae.

The mosaic consists of a central panel decorated with a rectangular grid of florets, inside some of these grid panels appear figures of animals, one is a lion facing an inscription which dates this church. An inscription provides the names of the members of the clergy and donors who built the church at the time of Bishop Theodore of Esbus.

The floor mosaic in the apse at the northern side of the church is partially preserved. It is decorated with vine scrolls framed by an acanthus border; in the scrolls are animal and floral motifs that were damaged by the iconoclasts.

In the nave, the floor mosaic consists of an acanthus border that surrounds two panels decorated with figurative motifs, and a pattern of tangent crosses with concave ends. The eastern panel depicts a boatman and a fisherman with a rod and hook, as well as circles filled with birds and flowers. The figures were destroyed by iconoclasts and replaced with yet more floral motifs, crosses and architectural motifs. The hunting scenes, part of a decorative mosaic band in the presbytery, were also destroyed by iconoclasts during the AH 1st / AD 7th century.

After the AH 1st / AD 7th century the church was rebuilt. Half the original columns were eliminated, their foundations sealed with white tesserae.

View Short Description

The church at Massuh has two layers of floor mosaics. The lower one, from the AD 6th century, has no iconoclastic damage, while the upper layer, from the AH 1st /AD 7th century, was systematically altered by iconoclasts. Figures were carefully replaced by crosses, or floral and architectural motifs.

How date and origin were established:

The mosaic was dated by its dedicatory inscription, which mentions that the church was built at the time of Bishop Theodore of Esbus (late 6th century AD). Van Elderen (1986) concludes from the archaeological phasing of the church that the iconoclastic damage occurred at the end of the AD 6th century. Schick (1995) says that Massuh was attended in the early Abbasid period.

How Object was obtained:

This mosaic floor was found during archaeological excavations carried out at the church in 1970 for the purposes of conservation and protection it was lifted from its original site in 1993 and is now housed at the Madaba Archaeological Park.

How provenance was established:

This mosaic was found during archaeological excavations in the church complex in Hisban in 1970.

Selected bibliography:

Piccirillo, M., The Mosaics of Jordan, Amman, 1993, pp.252–3.

Piccirillo, M., 'La chiesa di Massuh e il territorio della diocesi di Esbus', Liber Annuus, 33, 1983, pp.335–46.

Schick, R., The Christian Communities of Palestine from Byzantine to Islamic Rule: A Historical and Archaeological Study, Princeton, 1995, pp.404–5.

Van Elderen, B., 'Byzantine Churches and Mosaics in Transjordan' in: Geraty, L. and Herr, L., (eds.), The Archaeology of Jordan and Other Studies, [n.d.], pp.237–46.

Citation of this web page:

Ghada Al-Yousef "The church at Massuh mosaic" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2023.;ISL;jo;Mus01_H;39;en

Prepared by: Ghada Al-YousefGhada Al-Yousef

Ghada Al-Yousef is an archaeologist and the Director of the Friends of Archaeology Society in Jordan. She studied at the University of Jordan from where she received her BA and MA in Archaeology. In 1993 she undertook a course in the restoration and conservation of ancient mosaics held by the Italian government in Jordan. She was affiliated to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities from 1994 to 1997 as a trainee in the restoration of ancient mosaics and the production of modern mosaics at Madaba Mosaic School. In 1995 she opened her own gallery and workshop for producing mosaics. She was appointed as the Director of the Friends of Archaeology Society in 2001. She has carried out excavation work in Amman and Madaba.

Copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: JO 80


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