Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Tour of the Holy Land – Part 1 - Galilee and Capharnaum, the Town of Jesus

Published:Saturday | January 14, 2017 | 1:00 AMPaul H. Williams
St Peter's Restaurant beside the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
A section of the Franciscan Friars' monastery at the entrance of Capharnaum in Israel.
The ruins of the white Synagogue at Capharnaum, near the Sea of Galilee, Israel.
Sun setting over the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
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There are many songs about the 'man from Galilee'. That man is called Jesus, which some people believe is the figment of someone's imagination. But, to Christians the world over, he is real, the Messiah sent by God to save the world from sin.

He is the same man who the Bible says walked upon the Sea of Galilee, calmed the storm, and fed the multitude. And whether he is fact or fiction, there is no doubt about the existence of the Sea of Galilee, one of the most sacred of places in Christendom.

Galilee is a region in northern Israel, not far from the Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian borders. It is a mountainous place in which the Sea of Galilee is located. The body of water is actually a very large lake, 13 miles long, 8.1 miles wide, with a circumference of approximately 33 miles. Its maximum depth is about 141 feet.

At 686 feet below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth, and the second-lowest in the world, after the Dead Sea. The lake is fed partly by underground springs, but its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south.

Because of its religious and historical importance pilgrims from all over the world journey to the Sea of Galilee and its surrounding settlements including the ancient town of Tiberias, regarded as one of Israel's four holy cities. The others are Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed. A popular bathing spot is where the lake flows into the Jordan River.

When Family and Religion visited recently there was not much time to visit the settlements, but some could be seen in the distance, and bathing is strictly prohibited at the section where St Peter's Restaurant is located. The restaurant is named, of course, after St Peter, the biblical fisherman.

A visit to the Sea of Galilee will invariably be accompanied by a tour of Capharnaum, located on the northern shore. The original name, Kfar Nahum, means "Nahum's village" in Hebrew, but apparently there is no connection with the prophet named Nahum.

It is said that Jesus moved there from Nazareth in his youth. According to the Gospels, 'The Town of Jesus' was where Jesus Christ first settled down during his public appearances in the Holy Land. It was actually a fishing village, established during the Hasmonean era, about the second century BC. It was abandoned in the 11th century, for unknown reasons.

In 1838, American explorer Edward Robinson discovered the ruins of Capharnaum, and in 1866, British Captain Charles Wilson identified the remains of the white synagogue of Jesus. In 1893, the site was acquired by the Franciscan Friars, who have a monastery there until today.

But the most important excavations began in 1905 under the guidance of Germans Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger. The work continued under Franciscans fathers Vendelin von Benden and Gaudenzio Orfali. The excavations resulted in the exposure of the synagogue, and an octagonal church.

 

MODERN SHRINE

 

A 1968 excavation of the western part of the site, owned by the Franciscans, unearthed a house which is said to be St Peter's house. The eastern half of the site, where the Church of the Seven Apostles stands, is owned by an Orthodox Greek monastery.

Today, apart from the Franciscan monastery, the attractions on the western section are the ruins of Jesus' fourth- or fifth-century synagogue, and a memorial built over the ruins St Peter's house. It is widely believed among some Christians that Jesus taught himself in that synagogue, and that Jesus might have spent some time at Peter's house, or lived there himself.

The memorial is a modern shrine built above the remains of the house and the octagonal church. A glass floor located at the centre of the church/shrine gives a direct view of the excavated remains below. It is said the first Christians worshipped that church. Thus the early Church is rooted in the village of Capharnaum, the research says.

familyandreligion@gleanerjm.com