I had a really great time on a tour of the Galilee yesterday! I was with a small group… there were only 5 of us. Three of the people knew each other and talked mostly amongst themselves in Dutch. That left me and Miguel … a really sweet guy… to “hang out” together for the day. Miguel turned out to be a Templar Knight from Portugal. I’m told being a Templar Knight is a largely hereditary title (membership?) passed down to him from an ancestor who helped defend the Holy Land after the Crusaders had taken it back from the Muslims during the middle ages. He assures me that he’s not hiding the Holy Grail, Ark of the Covenant or the bloodline of Jesus, although I DID try to get him to spill the beans!
Miguel was on his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He turned out to be a wealth of information on Christian history… I’m really glad to have spent the day with him! I learned a lot and enjoyed his company.
We visited the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which is the place venerated as the spot on which the Virgin Mary was told she would bear the Son of God. I actually had seen this church before, when I had couchsurfed to Haifa. It was interesting to see it again with Miguel.
We then went to Kafr Cana, where Jesus is believed to have performed his first miracle… turning water into wine at a wedding. A church on the venerated site turns out to be THE place to get married and at least a dozen couples got married while we were there! There were ruins of previous churches under the present one.
The church at Tabgha celebrates the miracle of the loaves and fishes, where Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish. The current church is a 1980’s reconstruction of a previous fifth century Byzantine church. While the 5th century church had been destroyed, the original mosaic floors were largely intact and are preserved in the current church. The alter sits over the rock where tradition says Jesus placed the loaves and fish.
At Capernaum we saw the remains of the town mentioned in the Gospels as the home of the apostles Peter, Andrew, James and John… and a tax collector named Matthew. There is a modern church built over the remains of a house which seems (based on the layers of subsequent churches) to be the place venerated as the house of Peter. The whole biblical era town has also been excavated and restored. Most of what remains are foundations of buildings built out of local black basalt stone… which is quite unusual to see, since most of the rest of Israel seems to be constructed of white limestone. There are also the remains of an early synagogue, which could be the actual synagogue where Jesus taught.
Capernaum is on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and so we had a wonderful vista of the lake from the archeological site and later from the beach where we stopped for lunch. Miguel and I walked down to the shore. The water is quite clear and clean.
Our last stop was a site on the Jordan River where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John-the-Baptist. The place was simultaneously very commercial and very pristine. There were large changing rooms where pilgrims that want to be baptized can change into the plain white garment that seems to be THE fashion for baptismal. Pilgrims then made their way down to and then into the water by means of handicap-friendly ramps. When we got there, there was a large group wading in the water, being blessed, and at the proper moment, they all dunked themselves into the water.
Okay… call me irreverent… but these plain white baptismal garments reveal more than expected when wet! All I could think was “wet T-shirt contest!”
I know… I’m bad!
We were returned to Jerusalem and Miguel and I had a wonderful dinner together. A thoroughly enjoyable day!
You know what I always say… “Life’s a trip!”