This was a day of churches and rocks. Our first stop was the Mount of Beatitudes which is a rather unusual church made of local volcanic rock so it is dark grey. Most of the other churches have been a beautiful creamy sandstone. The path to the church is lined with flowers and plaques with each Beatitude described while the church itself was a very simple octagon shape to represent the 8 Beatitudes. It was on the hill above that Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount and in this area that he performed the miracle of feeding the multitudes with five loaves and two fish.
I found this quite moving despite the hordes of tourists. I think everyone generally feels the reverence for these places and even though there are lots of people, there is a sense of goodwill. Being in the open rather than a church also helps too. Over the centuries there have been so many churches built and rebuilt by Christians. While many are truly beautiful, sometimes I feel the presence of God more in nature.
Our next stop was Capernaum located on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee which was where Jesus was supposed to have lived during his ministry. He travelled to surrounding areas but always returned to Capernaum. He taught in the synagogue and and performed miracles here such as raising the daughter of Jairo’s from her death bed. It is suggested that the house below the chapel was the disciple Peter’s home. The chapel has been built over the old church and home, mirroring the original octagonal shape. The synagogue was quite lovely and you could imagine Jesus teaching there.
We also visited the Sanctuary of the Primacy of St Peter. Here I felt completely overwhelmed. I could not restrain my tears. I don’t know if it was because my husband was Peter and he was my rock, so that symbolism struck a strong chord, but I was very emotional. The church is small and it houses the huge rock on which according to tradition, Jesus ate food with his disciples after his resurrection. The huge rock in the church is called the ‘Mensa Christi’ or ‘ Christ’s Table’. There was also a little bay where put our feet into the Sea of Galilee. It was a likely spot to land a fishing catch. The grounds surrounding the church were very elegant and had many shady trees. The whole place seemed to have a peaceful aura to me.
From here we visited the Magdala. This is the home town of Mary Magdalene. The church is dedicated to women and has a magnificent boat for the altar. When the water levels of the Sea of Galilee were higher the altar looked like it was floating in water. The complex is very modern but elegant and warm. Downstairs in a little chapel was a magnificent painting depicting the sick woman touching the clothes of Jesus in the hope she would be healed. It is a most striking composition by Daniel Carioca from Brazil.
On the way out a priest asked one of the tour members to recommend the church on trip advisor because they don’t get enough visitors! There are excavations of an old synagogue which revealed evidence of an observant Jewish Community in the area. Jesus preached throughout this area of Galilee. The archeology in all these areas provides evidence of the different communities who lived around the Sea of Galilee.
Our next visit was to Banian or Caesarea Philippi where Pagans performed rites. Pan was supposed to be worshipped here and a cave here is a source of a river that flows into the Jordan River. Herod the Great built a temple here and it is suggested that it is the site where Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah.
We lunched here in a restaurant surrounded by the rushing water. It was cooler but the water was very noisy. We found we were nearly shouting to be heard.
The last treat was a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Our guide was able to get us onto the boat without too much trouble and in our own group. Our guide is excellent at timing visits and has a strong network that helps us get good treatment everywhere. Once on board the crew pulled out an Australian flag which he hoisted to the music of our national anthem! It was a fun touch. We sailed for about 20 minutes along the shoreline before returning. It was a delightful experience and a bit surreal to think we were in Galilee. Nobody from our group however tried to walk on water!
This was an exhausting day emotionally. Following the footsteps of Jesus proved to be a very moving experience. Even if the ‘where’ exactly of his deeds are debated, there is agreement that they happened. It is very thought provoking and challenges many of the stories we have been raised with.