The Holy Land Tour 2022 (Day 4): Cana, Israel

Kaf’r Kanna, popular in the modern version of the Scriptures as Cana is a small Galilean town in the Northern District of Israel. Christians and Catholic pilgrims and devotees associate this modern village of Cana as the site where Jesus turned water into wine. In the Christian tradition, this is the first miracle that Jesus performed and one of the few times where Mary, His mother had a very significant role in His ministry. This miracle is very important not only because water was miraculously transformed into wine but also because the wine was believed to be the best and sweetest. At the same time, the whole village never ran of it the whole night.

The miracle is narrated in the Gospel of John. According to the Gospel, Jesus was at a wedding with his disciples and His mother. Jesus’ mother (unnamed in the Gospel of John) told Jesus, “they have no wine,” and Jesus replied, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” But upon the supplication of His mother, Jesus finally helped by performing the so called “Divine intervention.” His mother then said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus ordered the servants to fill containers with water and to draw out some and take it to the chief steward. After tasting it, without knowing where it came from, the steward remarked to the bridegroom that he had departed from the custom of “serving the best wine first by serving it last.” The Gospel of John adds that “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and it revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Kanna or Cana or Qana is a common name of a place in this Middle Eastern region. I read somewhere that even Israel’s neighboring country Lebanon is filled with many villages which are identified as Qana or Kanna. This is significant because the exact location of the Biblical Cana is still contested to this date. The Catholic Encyclopedia credits Jerome O’Connor, a Dominican scholar as the person behind the current tradition. The choice of Ka’fr Kanna near Nazareth, according to him is “probably a pious guess.” Other potential sites of the miracle at the wedding include Khirbet Qana, which is also in Galilee and South Lebanon’s Qana, in an area that was once part of the Northern Territory of Israel.

Nonetheless, the choice of Kaf’r Kanna is also backed up by some archaeological evidence, particularly a large volume of stone jars that were found on the site where the Catholic Church (The Wedding Church at Cana) is currently located. These stone jars resemble those scribbled in the Gospel. Currently, they are on display on the church’s archaeological museum (on a crypt below the modern church).

However, archaeologists supporting other potential sites of the miracle argue that stone jars are not exclusively unique in Kaf’r Kanna during the time of Jesus. They were sporadically everywhere. Some even argue that a lot of these jars were excavated in Jerusalem, hundreds of miles away from Kanna. Our guide explained that a lot have been embracing Kanna as the site because the stone jars are larger than the usuals excavated elsewhere. And the number of jars found in Kanna, which are in the hundreds, if not thousands, are used as another argument on the primacy of the site. In other archaeological sites, stone jars maybe counted using the fingers. That said, our guide is convinced that the current site is has a century old tradition of wine-making, which as also explained by an owner of a wine store, the tradition has not changed much. Particularly, the use of pomegranate as the base is a very, very old tradition. I do note, however, there was no mention of the fruit in the Bible.

The narrow alley, way to the church. (Photo: SAPT)

The facade of the church (Photo: SAPT)

Another view of the facade (Photo: SAPT)

one of the stone jars excavated on the site (Photo: SAPT)

Other stone jars excavated on the site (Photo: SAPT)

The ceremony of the renewal of marriage vows (Photo: SAPT)

The ceremony of the renewal of vows (Photo:SAPT)

Going to the church is a little tricky. We had to navigate narrow alleys and climb some staircases that seem to be privately owned by residents of a private village. After a little upward climb, one was able to follow the path towards the church because local authorities had inscribed the entire narrative of the wedding at Cana (John’s Gospel) on the walls of the alley.

The church is cute, I must say. It is like a tiny baroque church or a tiny basilica, but impressive nevertheless. Surrounding it are smaller chapels that may accommodate up to a hundred. These are used for couples in the pilgrimage who are interested to renew their wedding vows.

In our group there were 13 couples who renewed their vows. The rest of the group performed the role of the witnesses. This was an amazing moment for me: seeing couples iterating the performativity of “I do.”

More so, the renewal ritual created a sense of community among us. During the renewal ritual, it was as if we really and truly knew each other. For a very short time, everyone felt that we belong to one family. I guess that’s what rituals do – create a sense of community or an “imagined community” where individuals are willing to engage in a participatory communion. More so, individuals are willing to transcend indifference and ambivalence. All of a sudden, for example, I was so excited to be a photographer to everyone. Same goes with other members of the group – they willingly shared their time photographing participants of the renewal ritual. We all stood up and cheered the participants despite meeting them only for a few days.

After the renewal of marriage vows, our guide took us to a wine-store where the owner graciously shared a bottle of wine for everyone. It was as if the reception of all those who renewed their vows. After some time, a fellow participant in the tour informed the tour guide that there was no more wine. In fact, I was not able to get my share. The guide had a moment of discussion with the store owner. A few minutes later, the store owner opened two more bottles and exclaimed: more wine for my Filipino guests. I had my own taste of Cana wine. When we left the store, the other bottle was still half-full. I heard a companion saying, it was a good wine. Someone said, it was refreshing. Then I added, it was sweet – as sweet as the hospitality of the store owner.

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