The Nabateans converted to Christianity during the Byzantine period (4th-7th Century AD). Two Churches and a monastery were built in Mamshit during the end of the 4th Century or the beginning of the 5th Century. The city was severely damaged after the Persian invasion (614) or the Arab conquest (636) or following a massive earthquake in the 7th century. Map.
Negev became a center of pilgrimage and monasticism, starting from a major center in Gaza and then spreading around the Negev desert cities, Jerusalem and the Judean desert.
Churches were constructed in Elusa (as referred in the stories of Theodolus and Hilarion below), two in Mamshit (described in this page), two in Avdat, two in Shivta, six or seven in Nessana (Nitzana), and other towns across the region. Christianity had started to spread among the Nabatean cities across the Negev as early as the second half of the 4th Century AD.
Hilarion is one of the important early monks in the Holy Land, and the founder of the Christian Monasticism in the Negev. His biography was edited in 390AD by St. Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymus, 347-420), who recorded the chronicles of the founding Christian leaders.
Hilarion was born south of Gaza, son of a pagan family. At the age of 15 he became a Christian, and joined Antonius the Great in Egypt – where he stayed for 2 months (306). Hilarion then returns to Gaza, and establishes a Laura (328) in the desert between between Gaza and Maiouma.
Hilarion operated in the whole region around Gaza, and his center evolved to become a large religious center in Gaza (4th to 7th Century) with notable followers (Zenon, Petrus or Peter the Iberian, Abba Isaiah).