Muslim family serves as guardians of old Madaba church
MADABA — A Muslim family from Khirbat Al Mukhayyat near Madaba has been the guardians of the Church of Sts Lot and Procopius for over 80 years after an ancient mosaic was found under their kitchen floor, eldest son Abdullah told The Jordan Times.
Abdullah Eigittat’s mother noticed that the floor of the family home’s kitchen was decorated “Christian-like drawings” as she prepared a meal and immediately notified the local Franciscan priests, who in 1932 were conducting archaeological excavations in the Madaba area, 30km southwest of Amman, Eigittat told The Jordan Times.
Mosaic restoration expert, Franco Sciorilli, told The Jordan Times that the Franciscans, charged by the Vatican to preserve Catholic sanctuaries in the area, bought the church and sheltered its building, walls and ceiling.
“The priests bought the land where we used to live on, built a house for my family close by and made us the official guardians and protectors of the church,” said Eigittat.
Since then, the Eigittats have guarded the church from harm, despite the family being of Muslim faith.
For the past 10 years, Eigittat has undertaken responsibility for looking after the church. Paid JD300 monthly by the Franciscan priests, he opens the gate, cleans the mosaic floor and the area surrounding the church on a daily basis.
Depicting two large portraits, the mosaic is 560 years old, 15 metres long and is the best preserved mosaic in Jordan, according to Franciscan Father Michele Piccirillo’s book “The Mosaics and Churches of Madaba”.
“For me, caring for the church is not a job but a privilege; before she died, my mother’s wish was that we continue taking care of the church, treating it as our own home,” the elder son told The Jordan Times.
He added that on the biggest portrait the marks of his mother’s cooking fire are still visible.
One of the portraits tells the story of grape collecting and wine making, along with the ceremony of music that used to accompany the event, the book added.
The mosaic’s portraits also illustrate the species of animals that used to live in the area, such as deer, bears and lions, according to Piccirillo’s book.
He said that in 2006 he headed a project called Bilad El Sham (the Levant) and worked on restoring the long piece of mosaic.
“Our job was mainly preserving it to live longer. We took part of it, cleaned the ground, and replaced it with a new one for proper and lasting restoration,” said Sciorilli.
The expert added that Khirbat Al Mukhayyat is the ancient name for the town of Nebo where the Franciscan Archaeological Mission started excavations in the 1930s.
Built at the time of Bishop John of Madaba in the sixth century, the Church of Sts Lot and Procopius lies on a hilltop close to Mount Nebo.
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