After a rough time at church, we drove from Tiberias, a town on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee, to Capernaum, on the northern shore. It was a beautiful drive along the coast with mountains covered with wildflowers. The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake, and is the lowest freshwater lake in the world at about 700 ft. below sea level. Capernaum was a major location in Jesus Christ’s ministry. He healed the sick, taught in the local synagogue, and called some of his disciples from Capernaum. Peter lived there. It was even called “Jesus’ own city” at times in the Gospels.
The parking lot was a fairly long walk from the entrance gate of the site and there were a ton of tour buses when we visited. Had I known how long the walk was going to be, I may have broken out the stroller because Landon had a hard time walking that distance to reach the site. One other note about many holy sites in Israel in general: modest dress is a must! This sign spells it out fairly well, but basically, cover shoulders and knees, and sometimes head to enter, for men and women.
At this point in our trip, we had been able to pay with everything using our credit card, so we did not have any shekels yet. Well, the ticket booth only took cash. Fortunately, they took dollars, so we were able to enter. Landon was most excited to go to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, so we headed there first. It was so peaceful to stand and look over the water and think about the events that took place here.
After spending some time by the shore digging in the gravel, I finally convinced Landon to check out the real reason we were there- to see the ruins of Peter’s house and the White Synagogue. There is an interesting church built on top of the ruins of a 5th century church that was built on the remains of a house church that was most likely the home of Peter, Jesus’ disciple. The middle of the church is a glass floor to look down at the remains of the walls of the previous structures. Around the church were wood carvings of various miracles and events involving Jesus that took place in Capernaum. From the inside of the church, we had a great view of the rest of the ruins of the city.
The history of Peter’s house was interesting to me and is worth noting. Archaelogical evidence tells us that this was a typical house up until 1 A.D., when the home underwent renovations including inscriptions on the walls and a plaster floor. No normal household ceramics were found on the site, only lamps, pointing to the house as a place of religious significance. In the early days of the Christian church, followers of Christ met in houses, and many experts believe that this was a house church. In the 4th century A.D., the house was again expanded, and then in the 5th century, a larger octagonal church was built around the house. This was the typical Byzantine treatment of a holy Christian site. The most famous place in the Capernaum area for Christians is Peter’s house, so experts have concluded that due to positive archaeological evidence, this probably was, in fact, Peter’s house in Capernaum. It is interesting to note that in the 5th century octagonal church was a pool for baptism.
Just a few house remains away from Peter’s house is the White Synagogue, which was built over an earlier 1st century synagogue, believed to be a place where Jesus taught. The white, ornately carved stones of the synagogue are a complete contrast to the dark basalt stones that form the rest of the buildings in Capernaum. The stone is calcareous stone that was brought in from a far away quarry. This synagogue was in amazing condition considering how old it was!
Along the sides of walkway for tourists was a display of carved stones that used to be a part of the white synagogue. Palm trees and five- and six-pointed stars were used to decorate it. I can imagine when it was built it was quite the impressive building in this little town!
For our little family, visiting Capernaum was a great way to start our tour of significant New Testament sites. Although well-preserved and maintained, it was hard for Landon to imagine that people used to live in the structures we saw, with no roof and only very short walls left as evidence. What brought it alive for us was to talk about the stories that happened here, to walk to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and talk about Jesus walking on the water, coming across in a boat to Capernaum, healing Peter’s mother in his house, and teaching there and in the synagogue. My favorite miracle of Christ in this town was his healing of the paralytic. The man’s friends cared enough, and had enough faith that Jesus could heal him, that they carried this guy onto the roof, tore a hole through the stick, thatch and mud roof, and lowered him down. And Jesus healed him!
This site was fairly child-friendly. The Church of St. Peter, built over the top of the ruins of Peter’s house, is up a few steps. We did not take our stroller, and just had our little guy in a baby carrier. There’s plenty of room to run around and “be kids” at this site, and even with all the tour buses, it did not seem crowded or busy when we were there. I would recommend this site for Christians who want to see “Jesus’ own city,” or Jews who come to see the White Synagogue or history buffs who like to look at ruins of old cities. Make sure to dress modestly, bring cash for entry, and check out the Greek Orthodox monastery as well if there’s time. We heard great things but decided not to go because our kids were done.