Fr Michele Piccirillo: Priest and expert in Byzantine archaeology

Michele Piccirillo, the Franciscan father and professor of archaeology, who has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, was an enthusiastic and dynamic character who took forward the study of early Byzantine archaeology, particularly mosaics, in Jordan, Palestine and Syria. He was an inspiration to all he came into contact with.

Born in Casanova di Carinola, Italy, in 1944, Piccirillo joined the Franciscan brotherhood in 1960, becoming a priest in 1969 at the age of 25, and thereafter he combined a pious and academic life. While devoting himself to Christianity, he was simultaneously committed to studying biblical and early Byzantine archaeology.

Piccirillo belonged to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, where he had taught biblical history and biblical geography since 1975. Unearthing the earliest churches in the Holy Land and promptly publishing his findings gained him world-renown and great support from European and American institutions to conduct his work in Jordan, Palestine and Syria. His reputation was unrivalled and he was invited to lecture all over the world. He wrote dozens of scholarly articles and numerous books, most notably the landmark Mosaics of Jordan (1993), bringing the corpus of Jordan's mosaic art together. But his volumes on Mayfa'ah Umm al-Rasas (1993), Mount Nebo (1998) and The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997 (1999) were no less important. One of his lasting contributions to the academic field was to demonstrate through archaeological evidence the continuity of early Byzantine traditions into the Islamic periods, a theme now commonly accepted among most scholars of the subject.

Equally significant were Piccirillo's efforts in conserving and protecting archaeological monuments, particularly mosaic pavements. He was a co-founder of the Madaba Mosaic School in Jordan and was responsible for upgrading it to become the Madaba School for Mosaic Art and Restoration. The work was extended to the Umayyad palace of the Caliph Hisham at Khirbet al-Mafjar near Jericho in Palestine. In Syria he also supported mosaic studies and preservation, as was highlighted by the conservation and building of an impressive shelter over the huge fifth-century Church of the Holy Martyrs at Tayibat al-Imam near Hama.

His professional qualifications included a Licentiate in theology (PAA 1970), a Licentiate in Holy Scripture (PIB 1974), and a Laureate in archaeology (University of Roma 1975) and Professor (Ordinary 1984). He also served as director of the Museum of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem (1974-2008) and as director of their archaeological mission in Jordan, focusing on excavations at Mt Nebo, Umm al-Rasas and the Madaba area. His endless energy and persistent field research made him a leading scholar in the field.

After his death in Livorno, Italy, Piccirillo was laid to rest on 1 November 2008 at Mt Nebo, to which he devoted much of his life to uncover and preserve. The impressive shelter currently being built over the Memorial Church of Moses at Mt Nebo will be the final testament to his legacy. He will always be remembered for the impact he had on the studies of mosaics, but equally for his humility and his compassion for all those around him. For those of us working closely with him in Jordan, Palestine and Syria, his loss is particularly great.

Konstantinos D. Politis

Michele Piccirillo, priest and archaeologist: born Casanova di Carinola, Italy 18 November 1944; died Livorno, Italy 26 October 2008.

Suggested Topics
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam