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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before