Tabgha: A Cluster of Holy Sites on the Shore of Galilee

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5th century mosaics in the Church of the Multiplication

Before visiting the Holy Land, I had no idea about the exact geography and movements of Jesus as He went throughout his ministry. Since arriving in Israel, I have developed a deeper appreciation for Him and for the effort that it took to get from place to place back over two thousand years ago. The hills and mountains of Israel are steep, and it’s not like they had unlimited snacks while they were trekking through the wilderness from town to town!

IMG_4552After attending church in Tiberias, we headed north along the lake shore to Tabgha, an area between Madgala and Capernaum where Jesus taught, performed miracles, and appeared to His apostles after His resurrection. We started out at the Church of the Multiplication, which celebrates the place where Jesus fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes. Tabgha comes from a word meaning “seven springs” and this wilderness area was frequented by Jesus when he wanted to be alone. Well, at this time of His ministry, Jesus went in a boat to this place, while followers and those who wanted to hear Him preach followed him on the shore. After teaching the people who had spontaneously gathered, His disciples suggested that Jesus tell everyone to go back home to eat, because they were in the middle of the wilderness and it was cost prohibitive to provide a meal for all the people who had gathered. Instead, Jesus asked to see if anyone had food. They came up with two fishes and five bread loaves. He blessed the bread and fish, broke it into pieces, and the whole gathered group (five thousand people!) were fed from the meager offering. In fact, twelve baskets (representing the twelve tribes of Israel) were collecting with the excess food.

IMG_4553The stone where tradition states the miracle was performed now lies underneath the altar. Beautiful mosaics from the 5th century were uncovered here in the 1930s and have been restored, and a new church built around them. The middle mosaic near the altar depicts the two fishes but only four loaves- the fifth is the one placed on the altar for communion/sacrament. Cool, huh?

IMG_4556There are plenty of signs marking the entrance to the parking lot from the road. I think parking costs a few shekels, but a giant tour bus was blocking the entire entrance, so I went around it and ended up not paying. Despite the parking lot being full of tour buses, it was not too crowded. There is a pretty courtyard and religious gift shop. I was here alone with the boys, so we just popped in to see the stone and the mosaics and left to find a good picnic lunch spot. If I had known better, we would have just walked over to the hill of the Sermon on the Mount, but I thought we could possibly find parking closer to that hill, and the Church of the Primacy of Peter. From what I read, I thought that the Church of Multiplication and the Church of the Primacy of Peter would be connected by a path, inside the church area, but we did not find a path. We ended up parking on the side of the road before ascending up to the hill associated with the Sermon on the Mount.

 

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View from the Sermon on the Mount

The church of the Sermon on the Mount is up above the other churches in Tabgha and is actually accessed from a different road. Someone from our church pointed out that the more historically accurate site was actually down the hillside from the church, making it closer to the other churches in the Tabgha area. As we drove by the hill, there were several tour groups climbing up and down the hill, so we decided to have a look. The view from the hillside was incredible, and there was a stone marking the spot, so we’ll call it the hill of the Sermon on the Mount!

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Eating lunch

IMG_4568Near the stone marker, there were stones set up like little seats. While we ate, the boys tromped around the hillside, and Owen even tried making an escape up the hill! We talked about what Jesus taught here- to be humble, meek, kind, giving, and to not judge others. It was quiet and peaceful up on that hillside as I thought about Christ’s ministry.  I think the trail up the hill may go all the way to the Sermon on the Mount church, but we did not make it that far. There were several spots on the hill for groups to stop and take in the view. The hiking involved some steep sections and loose rocks- so some of the less mobile tourists were having issues.

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IMG_4591After our picnic, we headed down to the Church of the Primacy of Peter. It is built over the rock where Jesus appeared and had breakfast on the beach with his apostles after His resurrection. After Jesus died, was resurrected and ascended to heaven, the apostles went back to Galilee and their lives as fishermen. They were having a bad night of fishing- they had not caught anything- when they saw a man on the beach who told them to put their nets down  on the side of the boat. When they did, the net was so full of fish that it started breaking! Then they knew it was Jesus. They came up onto the beach and had the fish for breakfast. Jesus then told Peter to “feed my lambs” and “feed my sheep.”

IMG_4602This church is right around the corner from the Church of Multiplication. Most visitors walk on the sidewalk along the road to go between the two. I did not know there was a sidewalk, and was visiting with my boys by myself, so I unsuccessfully attempted to move my car closer to the entrance. Learn from my mistakes! Just park at the Church of Multiplication and walk from there! Out front is a sign clearly marking the path to the church. The path is shaded by big trees, and there are several areas for church services and sermons around the church. Inside the chapel is a small area for sitting and praying, and a big rock. People were touching it while kneeling and praying, so I figure this must be the rock believed to be the site of the breakfast on the beach. The chapel is small and simple, but set close to the shore of Galilee.

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IMG_4595After looking around the church, we headed down to the lake shore. Landon threw some rocks in the water, and we talked about the story and imagined ourselves in boats on the lake, looking toward the shore and seeing Jesus! It was a beautiful sunny day and the lake was so peaceful. Like at other Christian sites in the Holy Land, we saw people from Africa, India, China, Europe, the Americas- all over, all coming to see where Christ walked and taught.

The churches of Tabgha were simple, but the stories that originated here are larger than life. We enjoyed the sites and were able to see everything here in a little over an hour. As far as amenities, there were paid bathrooms at the Church of Multiplication and Church of Primacy of Peter. I filled up our water bottles there. Because of the varied terrains, with steps and gravel and a loose rock hiking trail, I wore Owen in our soft carrier backpack and Landon walked. The sites were close enough together that we didn’t miss our stroller. Make sure to dress modestly for the holy sites, no sleeveless or short shorts. There was a small snack stand at the Church of Multiplication, as well as a religious gift shop, but no other food options. Parking, like I said before, is best found at the Church of Multiplication and walk to the Primacy of Peter church from there.

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Just had to show you the wildflowers surrounding Galilee!
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