On the Gospel Trail

Capernaum and Tabgha (5 May 2013)

The first thing I did today, after breakfast, was to attend mass at the St Peter’s Church. Some members of the Koinonia John the Baptist community were there and they led the mass. I noticed that they all wore the same kind of clothes: a light airy beige shirt or blouse and trousers or long flowy skirts for the ladies.

It was Easter in Israel. I was a little surprised when I heard the priest talking about the empty tomb at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and how we were celebrating Jesus’ resurrection that day. But I managed to avoid total confusion because of my experience in Nazareth on Friday. There was a schedule outside the Basilica of the Annunciation informing visitors about opening hours during the Holy Week. I went through all the confusion on Friday and by Sunday I was better prepared. So it was not merely Nazareth that followed the Eastern liturgical calendar.

The character of the mass was international. The attendees were from many different places and the General Intercessions were a reflection of that. They got people of different nationalities to say a petition each in their respective native languages. It was quite fascinating. I also noticed that the hosts used for communion were brown. I wonder what they were made of.

There was a reason I had visited the Sea of Galilee before Jerusalem. Jesus’ ministry started around that area before he had gone south to Jerusalem. It is always good to follow stories in chronological order as much as possible.

It was a short bus ride from Tiberias to Capernaum and the driver dropped me off at the bus stop on the eastern side of the Capernaum National Park. There seems to be a jetty on this side for boat passengers to alight from. I decided to walk west along the spanking new pavement towards the archaeological site of the ancient village of Capernaum. This was along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and the walk was picturesque.

My first stop was the Greek Orthodox Church of the Seven Apostles. This was quite a pretty church with its white walls and red domes, and it stands all serene near the lakeside.

Church of the Seven Apostles

Church of the Seven Apostles (interior)

Church of the Seven Apostles from the road

Hot the weather may be, but everything was so beautiful and peaceful that I felt like I was on a holiday more than anything else. I would however quickly discover that I was travelling on a portion of the Gospel Trail and that quickly put things into perspective for me.

On the Gospel Trail

The approach to the ancient village of Capernaum was really quite exciting for me somehow. I was not expecting Angkor Wat of course but this place provided the venue for many incidents in the Gospels. This site is significant for both historical and religious reasons.

Remains of Capernaum with the Church of St Peter’s House

Church of St Peter’s House (interior)

Remains of St Peter’s house

I have no idea how that gels with conservation principles, but someone had the bright idea of building a modern church over the ruins believed to be the remains of St Peter’s house and actually went ahead with it. The local government obviously agreed with the bright idea. Maybe I am just an old-fashioned purist, but to me anyone who considers mixing modern with ancient should be shot. I know many architects seem to think that this is a wonderful idea. I think that it will be wonderful if they stop being architects.

The remains of the synagogue still standing in the village were in fact built on top of an even older one.

Remains of synagogue

Remains of synagogue (side with the two layers of stone)

From the side of the synagogue, it is not hard to see two layers of stones. The darker coloured older level may be the remains of the synagogue which Jesus had spent a lot of time in. It was quite fascinating.

Before this trip, I had attended this lecture on the Gospel of Mark given by an American gentleman at an Anglican church. The lecturer had been to Israel and had shared his pictures at the lecture. I remember him mentioning that Peter’s house was pretty close to the synagogue and this probably meant that he was of a certain status in the community. I am quite skeptical about this claim however. The village looked pretty small to me and everyone must have lived close to the synagogue. Does that mean that every Capernaumer was important?

The nicest part of the visit for me however was the lake.

By the lake

By the lake

By the lake

And then I heard “Indonesia Raya”. The boat in the picture above was where the singing came from. It must have been chartered by a group of Indonesian pilgrims. They were that loud. There was a somewhat comical quality to the whole scene, with the boat floating up and down the lake and then its passengers singing their national anthem so loudly. It almost looked like a scene out of “Allo Allo” except that it was not “La Marseillaise” being sung. And yet there was something comfortingly familiar with it as well. This was a group of people from my part of the world.

Continuing west along the lake, I reached the Church of the Primacy of St Peter in no time. Needless to say, this is a Catholic church and was built to commemorate the reinstatement of Peter by Jesus as chief among the apostles. This church was built on what to me was prime location as it was practically on the shore of the lake.

A large slab of limestone rock at the sanctuary was supposedly where Jesus had laid out a breakfast of bread and fish for the apostles after his resurrection. It was also at this time that Jesus asked Peter to feed his sheep.

Church of the Primacy of St Peter

Church of the Primacy of St Peter with the Mensa Christi

There was a rather scary friar who came screaming at everyone because he was upset that people were treating the church as a mere tourist attraction, snapping pictures and all. Luckily I had already taken my pictures inside the church and was praying when he came charging in.

A group of South Koreans came along with 3 priests and mass was said in in the church garden. The Korean priests borrowed their vestments from the church itself and I saw the scary friar helping them. He was not scary at all to the Korean priests although he still looked like he was scowling. Wish I could have taken a picture of him with the big fat scowl.

Korean mass

The Church of the Multiplication was closed that day. Darn! Of all days!

While trying my best to manage my disappointment, I started the search for the Church of the Beatitudes. The directions in Lonely Planet were not very clear and there were no clear signs in the area showing where to go. I was walking up and down the road trying to find some clue its whereabouts. But I knew that I was not going to allow myself to be disappointed twice in one day so I simply must find that church!

Now the scene involving the beatitudes took place on a hill did it not? Talk about the benefits of reading the Bible. But which hill was it? Along the way, I decided to ask this gentleman who looked intelligent and was the only other person wandering around along that road. He did not know where it was either but suspected, like I did, it was on this particular hill with a car park next to it. I decided to venture up that hill.

The trek up the hill felt like some outward bound adventure. The climb up was not entirely arduous although I was at the complete mercy of the sun and I really had no idea where I was going. There were a lot of bananas though.


And then I saw it!

Road to the Beatitudes

The Church of the Beatitudes of course commemorates Jesus’ delivery of the Sermon on the Mount. I was certain that I could not practice that Sermon and be those attitudes. But I sure could appreciate the sight of the church.

Church of the Beatitudes

Church of the Beatitudes (interior)

On the way down the hill, I bumped into the gentleman I had asked directions to the church from. I confirmed for him that he was on the right track and told him he was near. Glad I could help him, like how he had tried to help me.

I think I had a pretty good day.

View from the Mount

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