Titular see in Palstina Prima
Eleutheropolis, a titular see in Palstina Prima. The former name of this city seems to have been Beth Gabra, "the house of the strong men", which later became Beït Djibrïn, "the house of Gabriel". Vespasian slaughtered almost all its inhabitants, according to Josephus, De Bell. Jud., IV., viii, 1, where its name is written Betaris. In A.D. 200 Septimius Severus, on his Syrian journey changed its name to Eleutheropolis, and it soon became one of the most important cities of Judea. Its special era, which figures on its coins and in many inscriptions, began January 1, A.D. 200. (See Echos d'Orient, 1903, 310 sq.; 1904, 215 sq.) Its first known bishop is Macrinus (325); five others are mentioned in the fourth and two in the sixth century (Lequien, Or. Christ., III, 631). In 393, during the episcopate of Zebennus, the relics of the Prophets Habakuk and Micah were found at Ceila and Tell Zakariya near Eleutheropolis (Sozom., H. E., VII, xxix). At Eleutheropolis was born St. Epiphanius, the celebrated bishop of Salamis in Cyprus; at Ad in the neighborhood he established a monastery which is often mentioned in the polemics of St. Jerome with Rufinus and John, Bishop of Jerusalem. The city was, moreover, an important monastic center at least till the coming of the Arabs. The latter beheaded (638) at Eleutheropolis fifty soldiers of the garrison of Gaza who had refused to apostatize. They were buried in a church built in their honor. (See Anal. Bolland., 1904, 289 sq., and Echos d'Orient, 1905, 40 sq.) The city was destroyed by the Mussulmans in 796 in the civil wars. The Crusaders erected there a fortress, in 1134, under Fulco of Anjou; the Knights of St. John, to whom it was committed, restored at this time the beautiful Byzantine church at Sandahanna. The citadel was taken in 1187 by Saladin, conquered in 1191 by Richard Lion Heart, destroyed in 1264 by Sultan Bibars, and rebuilt in 1551 by the Turks. Today Belt Djibrin is a village with about 1000 Mussulman inhabitants, on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, in a fertile and very healthy region. The medieval fortress still stands, about 180 feet square; there are also remains of the walls, ruins of a cloister, and of a medieval church. In the neighborhood are remarkable grottoes, which filled St. Jerome with wonderment. Some of these grottoes were used in early Christian times as places of worship; others bear Arabic inscriptions.