Staff Blogger: Gretchen Colón, Vice President of Advancement & Communications
*This blog was written by Gretchen Colón on Thursday, Feb. 15 local time.
The beautiful and ancient city of Magdala sits just at the base of the Mount Arbel and was discovered in 2006 A.D. Because it had been covered for so long, it is different than other sites we visited that had several centuries of civilizations layered on top of each other. It was essentially a 2,000 year-old time capsule. Here, Jesus taught the multitudes and healed the afflicted, including a woman who made her hometown famous, Mary Magdalene.
Here in Magdala, a synagogue was discovered that has been dated back to at least 29 B.C., proving that this synagogue was around during the time that Jesus traveled and preached. Knowing that Jesus taught throughout Galilee and in Magdala, it is certain that he frequented this exact site. In this synagogue, there is one of the earlier known artistic depictions of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, called the Magdala Stone. Of great interest to scholars examining the stone is the large rosette on the top side of the stone, consisting of six petals surrounded by six identical petals. The symbolic meaning of this rosette has not yet been established, but the number twelve could relate to a number of biblical traditions and its prominence on the stone indicates it is certainly of great significance. What we are seeing is only a replica; for safekeeping the original stone is on display at The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
From here, you can see the market and shops, domestic housing, fishermen’s work area and the warehouse and wharf.
In this space, near the synagogue is the Duc In Altum, which has been called the most unique spiritual site in all the Holy Land. As you enter, the atrium celebrates the brave and venerable women of the Bible and encourages women of faith today. Surrounding the atrium are four mosaic chapels, one to honor Mary Magdalene, one to remember the miracle of Jesus walking on water, one for the Daughter of Jairus (the only woman Jesus raised from the dead), and one that recounts the disciples’ calling to be fishers of men.
Aside from those smaller mosaic chapels in the Duc In Altum, there is also an Encounter Chapel, which is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter of all and lined with the original first-century floor tiles, and the Boat Chapel, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee and commemorates Jesus preaching from the boat in Luke 5: 1-11. Both of these chapels bring us in direct contact with sites that Jesus enjoyed and a footpath that he walked on. The sacred nature of these spaces is not lost on us.
After exploring Magdala and the Duc in Altum, we headed for the Sea of Galilee to take a boat ride.
The Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long, seven miles wide, sits about 700 feet below sea level and is the place where Jesus performed 18 miracles. Our group leader FJ says it is a sea that gives and a sea that takes. It gives water to the land and takes water from the hills. It’s the same water today as it was in the past.
The Sea of Galilee reminds us that God gave us love and we share love with others. This special place is where Jesus lived for three years. We floated on the boat in the middle of the sea admiring the mountains and the topography. The words that come to mind as we float in the sea are loving, compassionate, kind, peaceful and still.
The Church of the Beatitudes
In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivered his messages that we know call the Beatitudes. Although we don’t know where the actual site is location, today the Church of the Beatitudes sits on a small hill near the Sea of Galilee. Today, the church is run by the Franciscan Order of nuns.
Before walking around the church, we started by reading the Sermon on the Mount. The group gathered in a secluded place that overlooked the beautiful church. The sermon, which can be found in Matthew 5, began with the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Although this modern church rests on the site of two earlier churches, this site is traditionally thought to be where Jesus fed the 5,000. At this site, scientists uncovered a magnificent mosaic floor that is more than 1,500 year old. This mosaic is one of the first Christian art pieces in the Holy Land. Today, the church is maintained by the Benedictine Order of the Roman Catholic Church.
Church of Primacy
This was a quick stop but an important part of the journey of Jesus’ ministry. The shoreline was rocky but provided an expansive view of the Sea of Galilee.
This is the place where Jesus called out to his disciples fishing, “haven’t you caught anything, friends?” They yelled out no. He then instructed, “cast your nets on the other side.” After catching many fish, Jesus had this conversation with his disciples.
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’”
Today a beautiful church sits over the stone where the fish were cooked. The same stone that is now the altar for the church was once the stone that coal for the cooking fires once sat.
As we walked to the bus, an individual in our group shared about how often we question Jesus about our struggles or love. Jesus’ love is present now and in the future.
We wind around the sea and the hillside. Capernaum is mentioned throughout the Gospels and sits on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus made this town his own, worked many miracles and chose Peter and the other apostles. Near a synagogue that still stands today, Simon’s mother in law once lay sick with a fever in her home. Jesus visited her and healed her and now a church has been built over the house, complete with a glass floor so pilgrims can see the site and pray.
As we stood along the sea, we could imagine what life was like when Jesus arrived in Capernaum.
Dear God, we floated in the Sea of Life today – admiring the beauty, breathing the fresh sea air and being in community. We give thanks for Your love and we are called to spread Your love throughout the world. We share your love by inviting the lonely into conversation, caring for the sick, loving our neighbor and sharing compassion with a stranger. We see Your presence today across the Sea of Galilee. Amen.