This page is the beginning of a series on the Petra Church. For further reading, click through additional links at the bottom of this page.
The Petra Church is a 5th– to 6th-century Byzantine-era complex on a ridge overlooking the ancient city center of Petra. It stands next to two other churches of a similar date, the Ridge Church and the Blue Chapel. Identified in 1990, the Petra Church reveals important information about Petra’s early Christian inhabitants and features two remarkably intact mosaic floors, including depictions of the four seasons, as well as a range of animal and human figures. With funding support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and with the support of the Ministry of Tourism and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, ACOR undertook a major program of excavation, restoration, and preservation of the Petra Church between 1992 and 1998. In 1993, a cache of 140 carbonized papyrus scrolls was found in a room on the northeast side of the church. Such discoveries are exceedingly rare in the Middle East outside Egypt. These 6th-century texts indicate that the church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The content of the scrolls was exceptionally varied, detailing real-estate transactions, disputes, contracts, divisions of property, marriages, dowries, and inheritance. The papyri, written largely in Greek but including Nabataean and Arabic terms, have rewritten the history of 6th-century Petra and shed light on Christian life in the Middle East during late antiquity.
The Petra Church today is a key location for visitors exploring the World Heritage Site of Petra. A shelter protects the mosaics, and graphic signage helps tell the site’s story. More information can be found in ACOR’s publications The Petra Church and The Petra Papyri (volumes I–V), as well as in many articles and video lectures (see Bibliography). ACOR continues to conduct conservation efforts related to the Petra Church with the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority and the Department of Antiquities.
The Petra Church Project Archive at ACOR includes field documentation, photographs, drawings, exhibition materials, press clippings, and administrative records related to the excavation, conservation, and publication of the Petra Church.