Bernard Mulholland, Nazareth
Author's comment: This is the first in what is hoped to be a series of explanatory notes providing readers with more insight into the novel, writing of the novel, its content, the research underpinning the content, and perhaps also some information about the author from time to time as well. This particular note was in the form of an email sent to the Oxford University Byzantine Society in January 2023.
If you can spare a few moments, I would like to introduce
you to my novel Nazareth Quest
(2022). The novel is actually nonfiction, but, because it hasn’t happened yet,
it is labelled as fiction.
Background: about a decade ago, Ken Dark invited me to work
on his Nazareth project due my research into the archaeology of the Early
Byzantine Christian Church, and his own work at this site has also now been
published as The Sisters of Nazareth
After my first year working at the Convent, I wrote up a
half-dozen suggestions for follow-up investigative work based upon my
observations, and explained the reasoning behind these in preparation for my
return the following year.
However events conspired to prevent me returning, and, as
Ken concluded his project that year, this further work was not carried out.
A few years later, I decided that, as it seemed unlikely I
would again get to work at the Convent, I would transform this report into a
novel in which this archaeological work formed the focus.
And so to the purpose of my email.
There are at least two areas of research described in the
novel that I think are on a scale worthy of Oxford University, and I’d like to
briefly outline these so that you might share them, if you want to, with other
members of the Oxford University Byzantine Society to see whether they, or
their peers, might want to conduct this research.
1. The Cave. The
Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth appears to be constructed over the remains
of an Early Byzantine triapsidal church. There is a schematic of the Convent
overlaid across a drawing of the original 5th-6th century
church in the covered walkway leading from the Convent’s courtyard to the
garden at the rear of the Convent. The modern Convent church is aligned
north-south, but the original church was aligned roughly east-west with the
remains of the three apses now beneath the new church, although little remains
of that original church.
After the nuns bought the site they conducted intermittent
excavation before constructing the Convent. A thick concrete platform was
placed to protect the underlying archaeology, and the Convent constructed on
top of the platform.
The surviving archaeology can be divided into two parts; (i)
the remains of a circa 1st
century dwelling and Second Temple tomb that lie directly beneath the Convent
buildings, and (ii) a large cave that lies beneath the garden to the rear of
the Convent and that has a hole in its roof allowing light in from the garden
It is the cave that I would like to draw to your attention.
There is evidence that the cave was in use during both the
Crusader and Byzantine periods. After the church was destroyed and the site
abandoned, however, it seems that the cave was subject to regular flooding
events, and there is evidence around the walls that the cave had been filled up
to a height of some three metres with lime run-off and debris from the
surrounding limestone countryside. There is a strong likelihood that this
periodic flooding resulted in the walls and floor of the cave adding a layer of
hardened lime scale year-on-year such that the original surface is now
concealed beneath a hardened layering or accretion.
If this analysis is correct, then there is a strong
possibility that original wall paintings and/or a mosaic pavement are preserved
beneath this accretion waiting to be rediscovered and revealed.
My novel describes how to test the floor of the cave for a
concealed mosaic pavement, but, for wall paintings, one suspects art historians
might like to apply other methods.
Also, the age of the cave is not known, and so, if the cave
underwent periodic inhabitation and use, it is entirely possible that there is
concealed pre-Christian wall art beneath the accumulated layering of lime
I would argue that this cave is worth a further visit.
2. Demons. It is
important here to differentiate between fiction and scientific observation. The
novel explains much of the rationale for this research, but I can outline some
key points here.
For ease of access, Francis Barrett’s The Magus provides an introduction to this topic.
Barrett describes two main categories of ‘demon’.
He provides illustrations of the first category, and it is
almost certain he is alluding to comets and/or meteors. His tome was published
about a decade after a large number of comets had visited the inner solar
system and, as described by Mike Baillie in Exodus
to Arthur and McCafferty and Baillie in The
Celtic Gods, Medieval observers drew these visitors as bearded men. Of
interest here is that around this time a fleet of some 400 fishing boats
disappeared off the Co. Down coast to cause
a significant economic impact, and the cause is almost certainly due to
a meteorite strike in the Irish Sea.
However, it is the second category that the novel addresses,
and describes an avenue of potential research. Barrett describes good and bad
demons, and refers to ‘genius’ being due to interaction with the former. For
Byzantinists the interest here comes from ‘demon traps’ in the form of
intercolumniation panels set into the pavement of Early Christian churches
between columns that separate the nave from the side aisles. These panels often
depicted three-dimensional patterns that were said to confuse and trap ‘demons’
so as to protect the sanctity of the church sanctuary.
The question arising is whether these ‘demon traps’ were
introduced as a result of scientific observations made by clergy over many years,
or whether the concept just falls into the category of old wives tales? And
then, if these clergy have observed ‘demons’, what are they? We have evidence
that these same clergy did not seem overly concerned about these ‘demons’,
otherwise they would have placed these ‘demon traps’ at the entrance to the
church premises to prevent these ‘demons’ from entering the building or the
atrium in front of the church entrance. In fact, the location of these ‘demon
traps’ as intercolumniations placed between each row of columns separating the
side aisles from the church nave indicates that the clergy were prepared to
allow these ‘demons’ to access the atrium and enter the church building to
stand in each of the side aisles together with other congregants. What does
that say about these ‘demons’? The only area of the church prohibited to
‘demons’ was the nave and church sanctuary. This information flies in the face
of modern interpretations of demons in the media and the horror genre.
We might ask whether these ‘demons’, as observed by
Christian clergy, are humans, a sub-category of humans, a new species of Homo
Sapiens, or just a category of normal humanity with some psychological or
mental health issues.
Either way, in the modern era it is entirely possible to conduct
research of the type described in the novel to test the whole concept of
Having said that, it would make sense, as observed in the
novel, to maintain a degree of separation between those conducting the research
and those controlling it, i.e. it’s best not to fraternise with demons at this
point as you don’t know where they’ve been!
I hope this hasn’t put you off considering the other
research referenced in the novel? And, as a bonus, here’s a third avenue of
3. There is a third area of research, and not unrelated,
that is also worthy of consideration. You can access and read more about this
on my Academia profile here:
Mulholland, B. (2021). 'Can archaeology inform the climate
change debate?' Academia Letters, Article4385. https://doi.org/10.20935/AL4385
#highereducation #Ireland #Mensa #thrillers #mystery #horror #occult #demons #Crusades #Templars #Hospitallers #politics #archaeology #history #Byzantine #Christianity #Church #liturgy #climatechange #globalwarming #COP
Available to purchase from good book stores, and also:
Bernard Mulholland, Nazareth Quest (2022).