The lower scenes are pastoral but with a touch of the exotic: a shepherd watching his goat and sheep graze in the shade of trees; an ostrich on a leash held by a dark-skinned man; and a boy holding the leashes of a zebra and a spotted animal that looks very much like a camel but might be intended to represent a giraffe.
There are more mosaics in the nave and side aisles of the church, including some fragments of the 597 mosaic pavement. The oldest mosaic in the church is a braided cross displayed on the south wall.
Also hanging here are mosaics of animals from the Church of George in Mukhayyat. One of these is from 536 and has an inscription that some believe is the earliest example of Arabic script in Jordan (others argue it is old Aramaic).
In the far right-hand corner of the church is the New Baptistery (597 AD), which was previously a funerary chapel. It includes a small mosaic originally from the threshold bearing the greeting, "Peace to all."
Next to the New Baptistry, a lovely mosaic cross from the original 4th-century church stands on a modern altar in its original location. A photograph of the Pope praying at the same altar is proudly displayed.
Next to the exit door is the Theotokos Chapel, added in the 7th century where three rooms of the monastery previously stood. Its apse has a mosaic of a square object that may be a ciborium (vessel for the Eucharist) or altar canopy, accompanied by bulls and gazelles. The floor of the chapel is paved with mosaics of plants and flowers. Foundations of the ancient monastery are visible outside.
St. George's Greek Orthodox Church
Scholars have differing opinions on why such an expensive piece of religious art should have been commissioned by Church authorities on the floor of a Christian building in a provincial town of the Roman Empire. Some of the possibilities debated are:
• To aid pilgrims in making their way from one holy place to another. But pilgrims could not take this map with them, and portable maps and local guides were available at the time.
• To represent Moses’ vision of the Promised Land. Moses glimpsed the Promised Land from the top of nearby Mount Nebo, and Madaba was the episcopal see of the bishopric to which Mount Nebo belonged.
• To enhance the spiritual experience of worshippers during liturgy. The mosaic was originally on the floor of a large church, stretching across between the priest at the altar and the congregation.