The name of 'Ayn Kanisah was collected for the first time by De Saulcy in 1863. The beduins called thus the second group of springs to the south of Jebal Nebo. Beginning from the east we have 'Ayn Jadidah at the foot of the Tell el Mukhayyat, 'Ayn Kanisah or Keneisah in the center, and 'Ayn Hery in the west before joining at the valley of Jordan where we find the hot springs of Suweimah.
Frs Saller and Bagatti were the first ones to note the ruins of the monastery on the summit between wadi Hanishiyah and wadi al-Kanisah east of the spring. We started the excavations in the summer 1994.
The rooms of the small monastery are extended to the north and south of the chapel which is located in the center with a courtyard paved with mosaic in the west to a lower height, where opens a cistern for the collection of rain water. The chapel paved with mosaic has an apse and a service room to the north in the vicinity of the façade.
The presbytery was decorated with a tympanum covered by a shell supported by two columns. Between the two columns hung a curtain knotted at the center supported by rings to a horizontal pole. On the sides of the tympanum were figured two lambs placed against a small tree. The carpet of the hall was decorated with figurative motifs inserted in scrolls made of vine shoots that ended towards the east around a medallion with a dedicatory inscription and on the branches of the two small trees portrayed on its sides. The figures have been disfigured. In the center of the second register the mosaicist had portrayed a phoenix bird with the radiate head followed by a vase with flowers.
Historically the most important elements of the mosaic of the Theotokos chapel at 'Ayn Kanisah are certainly the inscriptions in the two medallions, which furnishe remarkable historical data at the knowledge of the monastic life in the territory of the province of Arabia.
The first inscription on the eastern head of the carpet forms part of the original composition dating from the second half of the 6th century: "In the beginning we give glory to God. Amen. With the prayers of your saints, give, O Lord, reward to the most holy Cyrus, (son) of Abraham, the Hegumenos and Archmandrite of the whole desert, and give reward to the most loved by God, Abba Longinus the stylite, and to Abba John."
The second inscription in the vicinity of the door, forms part of the rectangular panel added to the original mosaic in the eighth century: "By the providence of God was rebuilt this venerable monastery of the Holy Theotokos, at the time of Job,bishop of the (Christians of) Madaba, and of George the recluse. The 15th indiction of the year 6270 (A.D. 762)."
In the four corners of the square, the mosaicist has added four vases from wich gush out the throw of water. The vases are accompanied by the names of the four rivers of Paradise: Gihon, Phison, Tigris, Euphrate.
Through an entrance on the right of the staircase to the chapel, one descended to a vaulted tomb in which two burial places have been uncovered.
The new high date got from the mosaic of the chapel of the Theothokos of 'Ayn Kanisah constitutes another precious historical testimony for the vitality of the monastic presence in the valleys and on the top of the Mountain of Nebo. With the bishop Job, the inscription leads to the presence, still living and vital, of the christian community of Madaba in the second half of the 8th century.
© Michele Piccirillo