The next stop was Capernaum – it’s another personal favorite. It has almost the same features of the Felix Romuliana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Zamzigrad region in Serbia, which I visited in 2018. And to date, Romuliana is one of my favorite UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of course, Capernaum and Romuliana are not completely the same. The former is a complex of ancient community village while the latter is a complex of a Roman kingdom. Their similarities: (1) they are ancient ruins and (2) they belong to the Roman era – former during the common era while the latter before common era.
The ancient town of Capernaum was a fishing village, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. According to the brochure, it had a population of about 1500 during the time of Jesus. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other. More significantly, the complex is home to an ancient house turned into a church by the Byzantines is believed to have been the home of Peter, the fisherman-turned-chief of Jesus’s apostles.
Some biblical references: Capernaum is mentioned in the four gospels noting that it had been the hometown of Matthew (the tax collected), Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. In the Catholic tradition, Jesus is believed to have resided in Capernaum. Although this is still a contested proposition in the history of the Church. But one thing is agreed by theologians, archaeologists and religious studies experts: Jesus spent time teaching and performing some “miracles” there. Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum and healed a man who was possessed by an unclean spirit. It was also in Capernaum where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Other biblical figures associated with Capernaum: the paralytic and the Roman centurion who both were healed by Jesus.
Archaeological evidence demonstrates that the town was established in the 2nd century BCE during the Hasmonean period (Hasmonean is a ruling dynasty of Judea and surrounding regions from c. 140 BCE to 37 BCE.), when a number of new fishing villages sprung up around the Sea of Galilee. The site had no defensive wall and extended along the northwestern shore of the waters of the Sea of Galilee. The village is 2.5 kilometers from Tabgha, an area which appears to have been used for agricultural purposes, based on the many oil and grain mills which were discovered in the excavation (which is also on display in the complex).
The ancient synagogue found in the complex is certainly a site of awe. According to the gospel of Luke, the Capernaum synagogue at the time of Jesus’ ministry had been built or funded by a Roman centurion assigned to the village.
The now ruins of a later building, considered among the oldest synagogues in the world, were identified by an English geographer and archaeologist Charles Wilson. The large, ornately carved, white building stones of the synagogue stood out prominently among the smaller, plain blocks of local black basalt used for the town’s other buildings, almost all residential. The synagogue was built almost entirely of white blocks of limestone brought from distant quarries. I believe this is the feature of the complex that resembles the Serbian Roman Kingdom.
The synagogue appears to have been built around the 4th or 5th century. Beneath the foundation of this synagogue lies another foundation, perhaps the foundation of an older synagogue, the one mentioned in the Gospels.
Then there is another centerpiece: the ancient house of Peter and the memorial standing above the ruins of the ancient house. The memorial is a modern church built above the excavated remains of the ancient house and the Byzantine octagonal church, and dedicated in 1990. The disk-shaped structure stands on concrete stilts, ensuring visibility to the venerated ancient building (i.e. the house of Peter). Additionally, a glass floor located at the centre of the church allows direct view of the excavated remains below.
According to our guide, it was on that ancient ruin where the mother-in-law of Peter was cured. We were also told that it was on that very ruin where a Roman Centurion was brought inside the house via a rope from the roof of the house.
After almost two hours of exploring the archaeological complex, we travelled to the Mountain of the Beatitudes, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee between Capernaum and another archeological site named Gennesaret, on the southern slopes of the Korazim Plateau. The hill is considered one of the lowest summits of the world, being 25 meters below sea level. This site is also known as Mount Eremos, and it has been commemorated for more than 1600 years. However, other suggested locations for the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount have included the nearby Mount Arbel and the Horns of Hattin.
On top of the hill is a small church overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It sits uphill from the ruins of a small Byzantine-era church dating to the late 4th century. The structure contains a rock-cut cistern beneath it and the remains of a small monastery is located adjacent it. Part of the original mosaic floor has also been recovered and is now on display in a museum in Capernaum.
Pilgrims and devotees are known to have commemorated this approximate site since at least the 4th century. In her itinerary of the Holy Land, Egeria described the site with these words: “[n]ear there on a mountain is the cave to which the Savior climbed and spoke the Beatitudes.”
As for the Beatitudes, inscripted on the interior part of the dome are famous eight solemn blessings that commenced the teaching of Jesus as part of His ministry. These eight are maxim-like sayings that like other teachings follow a format of condition and the result. Except that in Jesus’s teaching, they are more focused on love and humility rather than force and exaction for which the Old Testament is known. The eight Beatitudes are found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. But Matthew’s version are popularly used in various media.
The Beatitudes are:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the Sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
These sayings are also translated in different languages all over the site. I was super happy to see a huge marquee of the Beatitudes translated in Filipino (Tagalog).
The third day of this tour ended on a night cruise – our guide let us experienced traveling on the Sea of Galilee using a replica of the boat that Jesus once upon a time used. In the boat, the Captain raised the Philippine flag and we sung Filipino songs. Afterwards, a traditional Israeli dance was performed by the boatmen and we were all invited to learn the steps and joined them in the celebratory beats of the movements and the song accompanying them.
In the end, I could say – excited to continue this journey the next day – Day 4.