top of page

The Sea of Galilee - Magdala, Tabgha, Capernaum then Haifa

From Safed we drove down the other side of the mountain, heading toward Tiberias (named after Tiberius the Roman emperor) on  the shores of the Sea of Galelee. Tiberias was the largest Jewish city in the area during the 2nd–10th centuries, and it was a political and religious centre as well. It is one of the four holy cities together with Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed. Once we glimpsed the Sea, Kati was keen to be near the water but our road took us some distance from it, so we doubled back and decided to take the first turn-off that would lead us nearer to the shore. "Migdal" the sign said.  A few minutes later we found ourselves at a major archaeological site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                Magdala, mosaic floor with ancient stone lamp table

                                                                               

Migdal or Magdala (or possibly Magadan) had been a fishing village at the time of Jesus, where Mary Magdalene (or Mary of Migdal) may have lived or may have been born. There is some confusion and disagreement as to whether Mary the prostitute, whom Jesus rid of seven demons, and Mary Magdalene, who was a witness of Jesus on the cross and who also found his empty tomb, were one and the same, or two different women. And then there is Dan Brown's idea, who in the Da Vinci Code explored the possibility of Mary Magdalene having been Jesus' wife.  

 

 

                                                          Magdala, village street with ritual bath houses

                                                                                    

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mexican born American priest, Father John (Juan Maria Solana), was destined to have a connection to Mary Magdalene through his mother.  When many years later he was sent to Jerusalem by his order to establish a place for pilgrims to stay, as he was driven past the town of Migdal, he knew that that had to be the site for the hotel.  The Legion of Christ, a Catholic congregation he belonged to,  bought the land. It was right next door to a Franciscan owned beach-front, where they had  already found an old village and many artefacts.

 

No building permit is issued in Israel without an archaeological evaluation, so poised as they were to start work on the 160 bed guest house, they had to start excavating instead - and found a first century village complete with a synagogue, streets, three ritual baths (mikvahs) supplied with fresh spring water through a cleverly engineered system of pipes, shops, and areas where the fish was dried. There is evidence that the fish processed in Magdala was sold in the markets in Rome. "Among the Jewish people who used it would have been Jesus’ disciples who were not yet separated from the Jews, and for this reason the synagogue is also a kind of ‘icon’ of our commonality, what we share from our origins," said Fr. Eamon Kelly, vice-chargé of the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame. 

A beautiful stone lamp table, engraved with a rose and the Jewish ceremonial candleabra, the menorah, was also found inside the 2000 year old synagogue. In the protected  harbour a well-preserved fishing boat, dubbed "the Jesus boat" was found, which could've sunk in Jesus'time.  The rose and the boat became Magdala's emblems.

 

       Stone lamp table with rosette on top and

                       menorah on the side

There is now a newly erected chapel, Duc in Altum, in Mary Magdalene's name, dedicated to women.  It acknowledges the Jewish beginnings of the site by using the same colours for its walls as were found in the ancient synagogue. Unlike other first-century synagogues discovered in Galilee, the Magdala building had ornate mosaics and frescoes.  In the building there are four stunning intricate mosaic-decorated chapels, designed and created by Italian artists, depicting scenes from the bible and the mosaic floor is based on the pattern found in the synagogue.  

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                 Altar in the shape

                                                                                         of a boat------->

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                     Duc in Altum  

 

 

                                                                                                             

                                                  <-----Mosaic showing Mary 

                                                         Magdalene being rid of

                                                        seven demons                               

                                                                          Detail of mosaic----->

 

 

When we were there the whole site was manned by American volunteers, who kindly gave us a personal tour; much of the excavation had been done by Mexican volunteers, including the archaeologists, all under the supervision of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, while the site was managed by a local Arab overseer.  

Only a short distance up the road is Tabgha, whose name means "spring of seven".  It is here that Jesus  is thought to have fed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and some small fish.  In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine encouraged the building of churches in Jewish towns that had not yet had a Christian community and the small chapel at Tabgha was built at that time by a Jewish convert.

 

 

 

                                                                                     Tabgha   

The lovely mosaic floor was in the Egyptian style, quite different from what we'd seen up till then.   

                                                                   

                                                                                Offering of candle

                                                                                      

                                                                                       Egyptian style mosaic ------>

                                                          <------Egyptian style mosaic of stork                                                                                                                                                               

                                                                                        Tabgha   

Close to Tabgha is the Mount of the Beatitudes, now the home of the Franciscan missionary sisters.   You can clearly see the lay of the land and also the sea. This is the place where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount - and oh, what a spot! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                   Mount of the Beatitudes

Then we headed to Capernaum, only a hop, skip and a jump away from Tabgha, and found an ancient settlement going back to the early Bronze age.  It is now famous because that is most likely where Jesus did much of his teaching. Originally, it had a synagogue in the centre of  the town, and later in the 4th century, a larger one built above it.  The new synagogue was of white marble, whereas the old one and the whole town was from the local black basalt stone.  Peter, a fisherman and Jesus' disciple, had a house there close to the water.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                    Caperneaum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But to give the feel of the place, it's best if I let Josephus describe Capernaum: "The country also that lies over against this lake hath the same name of Gennesareth; its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty; its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it..." (Note: Gennesareth: Sea of Gallelea).

 

There was so much more to see, but we had run out of time. As we arrived at Haifa it was just getting dark, and it was too late to see the city -  the third largest in Israel.  What we did see, and how could we not, is the exquisite Baha'i gardens, cascading down from the top of Mt Carmel.  The next morning we filled ourselves with a view of Haifa.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                             

                                                                                B'hai Temple garden    

 

A Persian, Mirza Ali Muhamman, who took on the name "the Bab" (meaning gate or portal), proclaimed himself as a divine messenger of God. His mission: to announce someone greater than himself, the founder of the Baha'i faith.  Bab was executed in 1850; his disciples retrieved his body and took it to Haifa.  His remains were placed in a mausoleum in 1909, and in 2001 the current garden, paid for the the Baha'i community of the world, was opened to the public.  It is now a holy sight of pilgrimage. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                           View of Haifa from the top of the hill          

 

 

 

 

 

*http://www.seetheholyland.net/magdala/

To be continued: Jaffa

 

In its heyday, only a few decades after Jesus died, the historian Josephus wrote that Magdala had a population of 40,000 people and a fleet of 230 boats.* During the Jewish Revolt in AD 66-70 Magdala became a fortified base for rebels and, again according to Josephus — who actually commanded the Jewish forces in Galilee, the Sea of Galilee became red with blood and “full of dead bodies”. (History keeps on repeating itself, doesn't it?  See Red Danube). Of the survivors, more than 30,000 were sold as slaves. In the last few centuries Magdala turned into an Arab village.*

bottom of page