The Capernaum Sanctuary

The Lake 

The area Capernaum surrounding the Sea of Galilee can be considered today to represent a unique sanctuary, for this is the land where Jesus lived and where his nature of God and man was completely manifested. It has been said that wherever Jesus placed his foot, there a sanctuary was created. The beauty of the area, with its thriving vegetation and “paradisiacal” atmosphere, offers the pilgrim the possibility to enter fully into the story of Jesus’ life, for this is where Jesus’ self-revelation occurred and where he dedicated himself to being a teacher, a worker of miracles and an exorcist.

Jesus passed through these places so many times, walked in these very sites, performed miracles here, and was repeatedly reflected in the waters of the lake. His voice reverberated among the inlets along the shores of the lake, proclaiming the Word of God, and it almost seems as if it has been etched into this marvelous countryside.

It is remarkable how here one can recognize the slow pace of our Lord’s daily life, in his daily activities, in his experience of God made man. But it is equally extraordinary how here he was manifested in all his divinity, how here he gave us his example of Charity, Truth, Life and Way and at the same time manifested his power through miracles and healings. This is why we can affirm that this is the Lake of Jesus, bearing witness to his divinity and his saving action.

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The Capernaum – The City of Jesus

Capernaum, together with the whole lake, is a particular place of grace. It is the Galilean village most frequently visited and served by Jesus. Here Jesus selected his disciples and called them to him one by one, making them witness to his own greatness through his life and his works. Here Jesus announced the Holy Eucharist with his discourse in the synagogue on the Bread of Life.

Jesus lived here his daily life; here is where he took the decision to reside in the house of his disciple Peter, where he met his apostles, where he was sought by all those who wanted to receive his grace and healing from his own hands. Peter’s house became a new meeting point, the center of a new community that was established around him, after the rejection he had twice received in the synagogue.

Jesus always returned to Capernaum after his voyages in Galilee, a sign of how much he loved living in this city and making it the center of his mission. Those who come from all parts of the world to visit this holy place, and do so with courage and humility, receive a gift of joy and serenity, immersing themselves in a natural environment of great beauty. In the spirit of the pilgrims the miracle can be renewed, as if they were there in person among the multitude who followed him and listened to him.

Pilgrimage Celebration

At the Shrine in Capernaum, three annual memorials celebrated:
– The Feast of the Promise of the Eucharist, the 3rd Friday of Easter;
– The Solemnity of St. Peter the Apostle, June 29th;
– The Solemnity of Capernaum, the City of Jesus, the 2nd Saturday in October.

The annual pilgrimage to Capernaum, “The City of Jesus” will commemorate three different salvific events: after his Baptism; after the arrest of John the Baptist; and before his departure for Jerusalem. Essentially, the Gospel passages regarding the activities of Jesus in Capernaum, can be summarized into three stages: Jesus who preaches the Gospel of the Kingdom of God; Jesus who calls the first Apostles; Jesus who heals disease and forgives sins.The Gospel passages of Capernaum are particularly linked to the Synagogue, the House of the Apostle Peter and to the lakeshore.

Capernaum is located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee along road 87.
From Tiberias, there are numerous public buses going to the north; it is possible to get off at the Kfar Nahum Junction stop and continue on foot along the pedestrian walkway towards Capernaum (distance: 3.2 km). Along the road are the sanctuaries of the Church of the Multiplication and the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

Holy Masses:
Holy Masses can be celebrated at St. Peter’s Memorial by prior arrangement with the CIC. Those who wish may also use the open area with benches on the lakefront.

Feasts and celebrations:
Holy Eucharist
Solemnity of St. Peter
Pilgrimage during the Octave of Pentecost
Pilgrimage during the Octave of Corpus Christi

Letter from Pope John Paul II to the Custos of the Holy Land on the occasion of the inauguration of St. Peter’s Memorial at Capernaum – 4 June 1990

“[…] We view the feast of the Saints Peter and Paul as being even more important than usual this year, and we wish in particular to applaud the holy Memorial that, on this same happy day, will appropriately be dedicated to Peter, Prince of the Apostles, in the place where he himself lived.
Knowing as we do the individual steps that were required to create this Shrine, we can only offer our praise for the long and devoted dedication of the Custody of the Holy Land to constructing such a remarkable monument that we so highly value and praise.

Today can be seen the fruits of all the studies and researches on the places linked to St. Peter; in this edifice they seem to be reunited and transmitted to posterity. No one can fail to appreciate the importance of this monument for fortifying faith and for illuminating the future piety of countless people.
[…] Together we will celebrate on the 29th of this month the dedication of this eminent and praiseworthy sacred memorial edifice. Let Capernaum, embellished in this manner with the Evangelical memory and the dignity of the Sanctuary of Peter, now obtain the illustrious honor that it merits.
Let Our Apostolic Blessing be for you, Most Reverend Father, and for all the collaborators on this fruitful and important work – both difficult and constant – of the Custody of the Holy Land, a document that comes from Our gratitude for the completion of this Sacred Edifice of the Memorial at Capernaum, and let it be a pledge of the heavenly assistance necessary for the prosperity of your apostolate and a testimony of your firm resolution and intention.”
John Paul II 4 June 1990

St. Peter’s Memorial

The need to build a memorial to St. Peter grew out of the desire to promote the revival of worship as it had been carried out in the first centuries AD. The project also took into consideration the need to safeguard and enhance this Holy Place, which preserves the memory of the Apostle’s home and of the places where Christ preached and was active. The building allows pilgrims and visitors to rejoice in the precious remains of Peter’s house and in the liturgical structures that developed around it and in function of it.

Today the pilgrim can observe the archaeological remains of Peter’s house and the successive constructions, both at a lower level along a path at street level that passes beneath the Memorial before arriving at the Byzantine octagon, and on an upper level by means of a quadrangular oculus within the Memorial through which the site can be viewed from above.
The project, designed by the Italian architect Ildo Avetta and carried out at the end of the 1980s, sought to emphasize the importance of the location by creating a structure that would invoke the profound importance of the archaeological site, its history and, above all, the events of Jesus’ and Peter’s lives. To this end, the main element of the Memorial was conceived as a ship whose hull would appear to hover above the Apostle’s house, an image alluding to the call of the Apostle Peter, who from simple fisherman became a fisher of men and head of the Church of Christ.

The execution of this truly audacious and ultramodern project, which required long and complex studies by the engineer Cesare Pocci and the collaboration of the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) of Haifa, was entrusted to the well-known Israeli construction and civil engineering company Solel Bonneh, under the continuous supervision of the engineer Anis Sruji of Nazareth. The Memorial was consecrated by Cardinal Lourdusamy on 29 June 1990, a date that is inscribed on the facade in Latin script: BEATO PETRO APOSTOLO A.D. MCMXC DICATUM (Dedicated to the blessed Apostle Peter in the year 1990). Pope John Paul II sent a special message to mark the occasion, of which two excerpts are reproduced on the internal walls alongside the entrance.

The Insula Sacra on the Peter’s House

One area in particular in the village of Capernaum has been the object of numerous interventions over the years: the insula sacra (“holy island”), which was given this name because it contains the venerated room used by the first followers of Jesus, who commemorated the presence of the Master and his teachings in the house of Simon Peter. That same venerated room, which became a pilgrimage destination for the early Christians, was reconstructed in the form of a domus ecclesiae and, later, in the form of an octagonal church.

It was in Simon Peter’s house that Jesus established his residence, the “headquarters” and outreach center for his ministry in Galilee. It was in this house that Jesus lived, healed, taught and instructed his disciples (Mark 3:20; Mark 4:10-11; Mark 3:31-35).
The different transformations have made it difficult to distinguish the oldest elements of the house. The excavations have brought to light the network of walls that formed the principal living spaces of the house, and a succession of different paved floors indicating a prolonged period of uninterrupted use beginning in the Hellenistic period. The excavations carried out in other residential areas have also facilitated a better understanding of the remains that have been found, and a reconstructive hypothesis has been put forward starting from the first attestations of veneration.

Facing the lake shore, the residence formed the southeastern extremity of a large inhabited area. The compound had its main door on its eastern side, opening onto an open space (cf. “The whole town was gathered at the door”, Mark 1:32-34; Matt 8:16-17; Luke 4:40-41). The door jamb preserves traces of the door leaves which were bolted from the inside in the evening when people went to bed. The house was likely home to several related families (Peter, his brother Andrew, his mother-in-law) who had their own separate living spaces opening onto a common courtyard.

Immediately upon passing through the door one entered the first courtyard (northwest), with its cobblestone and beaten-earth floor, onto which a number of rooms opened. Some of the areas served as food storerooms, others for spreading out the mats for sleeping at night and for carrying out small daily tasks. A second courtyard was located to the south. Most of the day was spent in the courtyards, which were shaded by canopies and connected to one another by open passageways through the rooms. The fire-clay oven for baking bread was in one of the courtyards, and it is not difficult to imagine a daily life consisting of the women chatting away while doing the housework, the children playing, and the men resting after a night’s fishing. It is reasonable to assume that a particular portion of the residence, which was to be the subject of all of the subsequent transformations, was where Peter’s family lived, and where Jesus was welcomed and lodged.

Jesus is the true Bread of Life

The food that perishes and that which gives eternal life. In the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus identified the faith in him, who had been sent by the Father, as the work that God wanted from all men. But the Galilean crowd thought his miracles were insufficient to justify such a faith. They demanded a miracle at least equal to that of the manna that Moses had caused to fall from heaven.

No, Jesus corrected them. It was not Moses but God who sent the Israelites the manna they ate. And it was also God who presented his envoy to all men in order to satisfy their aspirations for eternal life. And Jesus is the true bread of life. And Jesus is the true bread of life. And he who does not believe in him is guilty because, in the Messianic Era, to believe it sufficed to be attracted by the grace of God.

Then came the reference to the Eucharist, to his flesh that will be offered in sacrifice for humanity. He who receives this true sustenance will receive eternal life from the one whom the Father has established to be the giver of life. Many of the disciples found this discourse to be mysterious and difficult to accept. However, the Cross and the consequent glorification of the Crucified One was to show that the Eucharist, in the same manner as the prophetic words of the Spirit, is truly able to give life.

Not a few of his disciples, the Evangelist tells us, abandoned Jesus. But Peter, in the name of the Apostles, reaffirmed his belief in him as the Messiah whom God had sent and consecrated and whose words transmitted eternal life to whoever accepted them. M. Adinolfi – G. B. Buzzone, Viaggio del cuore in Terra Santa, Casale Monferrato 2000, pp. 56-57.

Liturgical tradition

The Franciscan devotion to Jesus, the Word of God made man, and to the places sanctified by his passage produced a style of prayer that arose from the desire to conform to the image of the poor and crucified Christ. The celebration of the events of Jesus’ life materializes in the Holy Eucharist. The celebration of the votive mass of the Holy Eucharist in Capernaum represents a concrete proof of the devotion of the sons of Francis to Jesus, present in his body and blood. In the Holy Land there in fact exists a very close relationship between history and archaeology, between devotion and liturgy, so strong as to be capable of serving as the foundation stones of the spiritual tradition.

It was the first century Christians who identified the Holy Places, those places in the Middle East that had had the honor of welcoming the passage of the only-begotten Son of God, of his Holy Mother, of the Apostles, and of witnessing the events of the Old Testament. The Holy Places are the witnesses that speak in a concrete manner of the historic events that proclaimed the Word of God. Beginning in the fourth century AD, large basilicas arose throughout the Christian world at the sites of the tombs of the martyrs. In the Holy Land, it is geography that testifies to the presence of Christ: the churches of the Holy Land, the Martyria, are thus reliquaries for preserving not bones, but rather those portions of the Earth that bore the imprint of the passage of the God made man.

The constant celebration throughout the centuries in all of the Holy Places of the mysteries of Christ has produced both written and handed down practices of prayer and veneration in these Holy Places that have come to represent a liturgical and devotional heritage. This has not occurred, however, in respect to Peter’s house and the synagogue in Capernaum since, as a result of the degraded condition of the village of Capernaum, there was no continuing tradition of worship at the site. Following the arrival of the friars to the Holy Land in the 13th century, the first seeds of a rediscovered and recovered tradition were planted, as they began to go to this Holy Place in order to venerate the house of the Apostle Peter and the synagogue. The first celebrations in the ruins of Capernaum, attested to in the 15th century, took the simple form of the prayer Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory for gaining an indulgence. Later, in the 17th century, the reading of the Gospel (John 6:24-59) was added. After the sanctuary of Capernaum was acquired in 1890, the friars began to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in the synagogue. Today, two solemn events are celebrated: the feast of the Holy Eucharist and that of St. Peter the Apostle. In addition, two pilgrimages are carried out, one during the Octave of Pentecost and the other during the Octave of Corpus Christi.

It is lovely to recall how, in the collect prayer dedicated to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Capernaum, the Church calls on the faithful to be worthy of participating in the Bread of Life, calls on them to have the faith to welcome the gift of the Body of Christ, calls for hope in eternal life, calls for the charity to conform themselves to Christ in their individual donations to the friars. In the prayers, God is acknowledged to be the source of all good, and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to be the greatest gift for man. Participation in the Bread of Life is also requested of God so that it may be a source of life for others. Participation in love must build brotherhood among men. The prayers stress that the force to implement this charity represented by brotherhood must have its source in the word of eternal life and in the communion with the Body and Blood of Christ.

Posted in The Holy Land