Israel and Palestine 2020-05-13T11:19:59-05:00


Ruins of the ancient great Jewish synagogue at Capernaum or Kfar Nahum at the shore of Galilee lake northern Israel

Memorial of Saint Peter

A fish-market and frontier post beside the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum became Jesus’ hometown and the scene of many of his miracles. It was also the home of the first disciples Jesus called — the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John, and the tax collector Matthew.

Capernaum is known for the place where Jesus worshiped and taught in the synagogue, where he promised the Eucharist and where he healed people. The ruins of Capernaum lay undiscovered until 1838. Today an ultra-modern Catholic church, perched on eight sturdy pillars, hovers protectively over an excavation site. It is believed to have been the site of Peter’s house, where Jesus would have lodged. Archaeologists believe the house was in a small complex grouped around irregular courtyards. Drystone basalt walls would have supported a roof of tree branches covered with straw and earth — a fairly flimsy construction easily breached to lower a paralyzed man on a mat, as described in Mark 2:1-12. Excavations show that one room in this interlinked complex had been singled out since the middle of the 1st century. Graffiti scratched on its plaster walls referred to Jesus as Lord and Christ (in Greek). It is suggested that this room was venerated for religious gatherings as a house church; if so, it would have been the first such example in the Christian world. In 5th century an octagonal church was built around this venerated room. The present church, dedicated in 1990, repeats the octagonal shape.


Church of Saint Peter at the Lake of Genesaret

Tiberias is the most important city of the Sea of Galilee and it could already have been so in the time of Christ, as it was the residence of Herod Antipas. According to Epiphanius, Christianity became clearly established in Tiberias in the 4th century, when a convert from Judaism, Count Joseph, obtained permission from the emperor Constantine to build a church where the pagan temple of Adrian had stood. From him, we also know that in Tiberias (as in Nazareth and Capharnaum) there were Jews who believed in Christ and kept and spread the books of the New Testament translated into Hebrew. During and after the Crusader period, the difficulty of visiting the surroundings of the lake in safety led many memories to be concentrated on Tiberias: the healing of a leper; the house of Peter’s mother-in-law; the episode of the woman, a sinner, who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair; the healing of the crippled woman; the episode of the centurion; the paralytic who was lowered from the roof and even the Canaanite woman being granted fulfillment, which actually took place near Tyre and Sidon (Lebanon).

Jaffa is south of Tel-Aviv and has a population of 60,000. In contrast to Tel Aviv, Jaffa has a recorded history of 3,600 years. It is mentioned in very early Egyptian and Assyrian documents – “And Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord and went down to Joppa and he found a ship.” (Jonah 1:3) Since very ancient times, it has been an important seaport for the country and gateway to Jerusalem. The cedar wood of Lebanon, for building Solomon’s Temple and the rebuilding of the Temple under Zerubbabel, was unloaded here. At Jaffa, St. Peter raised Tabitha to life (Acts 9:36) and he had the vision in which God asked him to preach also to the heathens the word of God.

Ein Karem or,“Spring of the Vineyard,”is an ancient village of the Jerusalem District. John the Baptist was born in Ein Karem, leading to the establishment of many churches and monasteries.


The picturesque village of Ein Karem, lying not far from Jerusalem among hills surrounded by olive trees and vineyards, is claimed to be the birthplace of John the Baptist.


The two-stored church of the Visitation is built over the site where Elizabeth hid when she knew herself to be with child and where Mary came to visit her. The beginnings of this church go back to the 5th century. It was repeatedly restored and in 1938, the Holy Land Franciscans built the upper Church. On the wall facing the Church of the Magnificat is written in 41 languages on ceramic plaques. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46)


The Desert of Saint John the Baptist is appropriately named after this saint and was built in the 5th century over the cave supposed to be part of the dwelling house of Zacharias and the site of the birth of John. It was destroyed, rebuilt by Crusaders and again destroyed after their departure. The Crusaders built a church and a convent here, on what already existed. In 1626, it is suggested that the Franciscans rebuilt or restored the church. The Desert of St. John was bought by the Custody of the Holy Land on November 10, 1911 from the Latin Patriarch who had in turn bought it in around 1850-55.

Sanctuary of the Apparition of Jesus to the Two Disciples

The place where Jesus appeared to two disciples after the Resurrection, one of whom was named Cleopas, is described in the Gospel by its name (Emmaus), its type (village) and its distance from Jerusalem (60 stades, which according to the best texts is seven miles). In the Crusader period (12th century) a site at the proper distance from Jerusalem was sought and so the Fontenoid castle (ancient Kiryat Ya’arim, today’s Abu Ghosh) was suggested, but the new location did not take hold. On the other hand, El Qubeibeh has been the only site since the 14th century and the Franciscans adopted it. The village’s topographical situation, located on one of the roads that mount to Jerusalem, certainly influenced the choice of the site, as well as the possible persistence of the local tradition.

At Cana in the Galilee, Jesus performed his first miracle, changing water into wine at the request of Mary, his Mother. In this way, Jesus manifested his divine glory.

Place of the First Miracle of Jesus & Chapel of Saint Batholomew the Apostle There are three or four places of that name which claim to be the Cana of the New Testament; Cana, which lies four miles along the road from Nazareth to TIberias. Cana is known throughout the entire Christian world, as it was the scene of Jesus’ first miracle when he changed water into wine. (John 2:1-11) Two churches are built in Cana commemorating his first miracle.

Lazarus’ Tomb & Sanctuary of Saint Lazarus (Site of Martha’s Home)

Bethany is recorded in the New Testament as the home of the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, as well as that of Simon the Leper.

Bethany lies two miles east of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives and on the road to Jericho. This village, which since the 4th century carries the name of Lazrus (el Azariegh), was the home of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, whom Jesus loved. He often visited them and their home. Many happy events took place here. Christ taught the better way of life when He said to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious about too many things; only one is necessary; Mary has chosen the better part which shall not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42) Here, Christ performed the great miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. (luke 11:1-44) Also, it was here, in the house of Simon the leper, Mary anointed Jesus with precious perfume. (Matthew 26:1-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 11:1-44)

The thousands of pilgrims that gathered at Bethpage, the starting point of the Palm Sunday procession that then went on down the slopes of the Mount of Olives to St. Anne’s Church, expressed their joy through chants, music, and dancing.

The sanctuary of Bethpage is located on the Mount of Olives. This is the site of the celebration of the beginning of Jesus’ messianic entrance into the Holy City.


The village of Bethpage is remembered as the starting point of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the day that is commemorated as Palm Sunday. Bethpage was considered the outermost reach of the city of Jerusalem, the limit of a Sabbath-day’s journey (900 meters) from the city, and the furthest point at which bread could be baked for use in the Temple. The name in Hebrew means “House of unripe figs” — recalling that in this area Jesus caused a fig tree with no fruit to wither (Matthew 21:18-22). The memory of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is kept in this Franciscan church built beside the steep road that descends from the Mount of Olives eastwards towards the village of El-Azariyeh (ancient Bethany) and the Jerusalem-Jericho highway. This is where the annual Palm Sunday walk into Jerusalem begins – a tradition begun during Crusader times.

It’s reputed to be the oldest town on earth, with stories to match. The Israelites supposedly brought down its walls with a great shout and trumpet blasts. Here Jesus healed Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and dined with Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector. And both Cleopatra and Herod the Great coveted this lush oasis.

Jericho (the name means “City of palms”) is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament.

In perhaps the most famous battle in the Bible, it was the first town captured by the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. But did “the walls come tumbling down”, as the song says? Archaeologists are divided on whether Joshua’s Israelites did in fact demolish a walled city.

Water from Jericho’s powerful perennial spring provides irrigation for abundant fruit, flowers and spices. “When the orange and lemon trees are in bloom, in the spring, the air is so heavy with their perfume that the visitor is sure he could bottle some of it and take it home with him,” writes archaeologist Godfrey Kloetzli.

The spring is associated with the prophet Elisha, who purified its waters by throwing salt into it.


The first hunter-gatherers settled here around 9000 BC. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements at Tell es-Sultan (or Sultan’s Hill), a sun-baked earthen mound two kilometers north of the present city.

The mound was formed over the centuries as towns were destroyed and new ones built on their rubble. The most striking discovery unearthed is a thick-walled stone tower dating back to 7000 BC.

Besides being the oldest town on earth, Jericho is also the lowest (more than 250 meters below sea level).


Since Jericho was on the normal route from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through it several times.

Near the center of the city, a centuries-old sycamore tree recalls the incident in which the tax collector Zacchaeus, too short to see over the crowd, climbed a sycamore’s branches in order to see Jesus. (The African sycamore fig should not be confused with the sycamore of Europe and North America, which is a different species.)

Jesus also chose the steep, rocky road from Jerusalem down to Jericho as the setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In this parable, Jesus describes the compassion of an alien (the Samaritan) towards a man who had been beaten and robbed, contrasting it with the pitiless attitude of a priest and a Levite who had “passed by on the other side” of the road.

At that time, Jericho was one of the cities designated for the residence of priests and Levites rostered for duty in the Temple. About 12,000 priests and Levites are believed to have lived there, and they were a familiar sight on the road.


In 35 BC the Roman politician Mark Antony made a gift of Jericho to his lover Cleopatra of Egypt. Cleopatra had coveted the oasis because she wanted to control the plantations of persimmon (now extinct), which produced a perfume that reputedly “drove men wild”.

Later Cleopatra leased Jericho to Herod the Great at an exorbitant fee that cost him almost half Judea’s income. After Mark Antony and Cleopatra died, Herod gained ownership of the city. He built a palatial residence and died there in 4 BC.