The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land (2)

Joe Zammit Ciantar Thursday, 18 April 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

Early in the morning we drove to Capernaum ['Nahum's village'] - the city where Jesus lived. Here we visited and heard mass at the Memorial to St Peter.

The Sanctuary

The sanctuary is a very modern building - Insula Sacra built on St Peter's House. Archaeological remains of buildings that date to the first century found all around the place show even the straight main street of Byzantine times. The apsis present in the first churches of Christianity may be seen among the ruins, under the sanctuary. Excavators concluded that one house in the village was venerated as the house of Peter 'the fisherman', as early as the mid-first century, with two churches having been constructed over it.


We toured the ruins of an ancient synagogue on the left hand side of the Memorial, and admired columns, and diverse stone sculptures, among them the seven candle menorah, the five pointed Star of David, and the six pointed Star of Israel, the pomegranate and grapes, designs in stone relics of the mosque.

Next we moved on to the Mount of the Eight Beatitudes.

The Franciscan Sisters of Egypt are the custodians of the church, built in the form of an octagon, with colonnaded corridors all round. Inside, the church is plain. The framed eight beatitudes, in Latin, hang high up against each of the eight side walls of the church.

We left and drove to Tabgha where we entered a Benedictine Monastery. The extant original bright coloured mosaic on the floor, has been enhanced with light coloured mosaic during restoration.

The church is called of the Heptapegon ('Seven Springs'), or the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes; it stands on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.

It is a modern church built on the site of fourth and fifth-century churches. It preserves a splendid early Christian mosaic as well as the traditional stone venerated by the Judeo-Christians of Capernaum as the rock upon which Jesus is said to have laid the bread and the fish before he fed the five thousand people. (Mark 6: 30-44).

Primacy of Peter

Nearby stands the Church of the Primacy of Peter. [Peter 'received immediately and directly from Jesus Christ our Lord not only a primacy of honour but a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction.' It was not political or repressive, but a primate 'of service which illuminates, encourages, and sustains, in everalsting contact with the Lord.']

A chapel built here in the fourth century, was destroyed in 1263. The present one, in black basalt, was built by the Franciscans in 1933 - a very simple aisleless or single-nave building which commemorates the appearance of the risen Christ to His disciples on the shore of the lake, and gave Peter primacy over the church with the thrice repeated injunction: 'Feed My lambs ... Feed My sheep ... Feed My sheep' (John 21, 15-16).

In a garden setting, nearby - an area designed for group worship - dominates a modern bronze statue of Jesus symbolically commissioning Peter with his shepherd's crook.

A boat-trip

The coach the drove us to the pier of Tiberias from where we embarked a boat, to cross over the Sea/Lake of Galilee and be taken to Ein Gev ['gathering; clustering'], located on the eastern shore of the lake.

At the start of our one-hour trip a Maltese flag was hoisted, and the Maltese National Anthem was played. All of us on board were Maltese.

At one point in time the captain cut the motor and Fr Anthony read an excerpt from the Gospel. In the meantime we could look around, surrounded by landscapes sacred for thousands of years.

Here, Jesus walked on the water (John 6: 19-21), calmed a storm (Matt. 8: 23-26), and helped the disciples with miraculous catches of fish (Luke 5: 1-8; John 21: 1-6).

The boat berthed at Ein Gev where we entered the large spacious Ein Gev Fish Restaurant which can seat a thousand clients at one time.

Cana village

Our next stop was at village of Cana for a visit to the sanctuary where tradition holds Jesus performed his first miracle at a marriage feast (John 2:1-11). Walking through narrow winding streets, we passed by souvenir shops, selling objects associated with the miracle of turning water into wine: prints, small and large bottles of wine, and small pottery jugs. [In the Sanctuary - owned by the Custody of the Holy Land - Fr Anthony recited the marriage renewal rite prayers for all the couples in the group.]

The recent find of another two apses beside another which had been discovered earlier established a three-folio part of an early Christian church.

A church with a tradition

Back in Nazareth, we walked to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation - also known as Church of St Gabriel or St Gabriel's Greek Orthodox Church - where, one of the Apocrypha [or Deuterocanonical books] narrates that Mary, as a young girl, first heard the call from the angel when she was filling a jar with water from a spring [which still still runs inside the apse of the church and also fed the adjacent site of Mary's Well, some 140 m away]. No sooner had she heard the voice greeting her: 'Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord be with you,' than she became afraid and ran home where she put the jar full of water aside, and applied herself to work on silk. It was here that she was now faced again by the angel standing by her side, who greeted her again, and she accepted with the proverbial 'Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.' (Luke 1:38)

The walls of this church are profusely covered with beautiful paintings - among them one of St George.

To Jordan

On Thursday 1 May, we drove to the Northern Border of, and crossed to Jordan. On the way I was impressed with the poverty of the Bedouin-like men who, from roughly built huts on both sides of the road - sheltered from the heat of a scorching sun in a clear blue sky, sold tomatoes, potatoes, vegetables, and especially water melons. Abandoned huts evidenced the reclining and failing life of the Bedouins. [It is said that the government pays these Bedouins to stay in the desert lest other people take their place.] On the side of some fertile land the fields are terraced as in downs of hilly Gozo.

Several men were sitting in front of their houses, or in the shade under trees, killing time. Garages with mechanics working on old used motor vehicles, seemed to be very common, and frequent, on what seemed to be the 'highway' from the Israeli border, into Jordan.


Jerash - the Gerasa of antiquity, is the capital and largest city of the Jerash Governorate, situated in the north of Jordan, 48 km north of the capital Amman. It is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River - the most important and best preserved Roman city in the Near East. Ancient Greek inscriptions from the city as well as literary sources attribute the foundation to Alexander the Great or his general Perdiccas, who settled aged Macedonian soldiers there [the Greek word 'Gerasmenos' means 'aged person'], sometime in 331 BC, when Alexander crossed Syria, and moved on to Mesopotamia. It was a public holiday.

At Jerash we walked through a market with colourful stalls selling water and drinks, and eats, and all sorts of souvenirs like hats, shawls, photos, postcards, kitchen magnets, pottery, hand painted ceramics, and especially books in different languages about Petra - the historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan.

The Arch of Hadrian - a triple-arched gateway erected to honour the visit of Roman Emperor Hadrian in the winter of 129-130 A.D. - is perched on the high mount at the back of the market.

We entered and walked into the large oblong racing grounds which reminded me of the arena with the famous chariot race in the 1959 colossal film 'Ben-Hur'. Then we walked into an enormous colonnaded oval space, with a column on a pedestal and an altar by its side in the centre of the grounds, originally paved with extremely large blocks of marble, still in place today.

In the theatre three men played music to entertain the visitors - playing a bagpipe, and two drums.

To Mount Nebo

After lunch, we drove along the highway in desert land to Mount Nebo [(which in Maltese would be translated into 'Ġebel Nibu' - where 'ġebel' means 'heights'; compare 'Ġebel Ciantar' near Dingli Cliffs]; it is an elevated ridge in Jordan, approximately 817 meters above sea level, located 10km north west of Madaba. It is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land that he would never enter. The view from the summit provides a panorama of the Holy Land and, to the north, a more limited one of the valley of the River Jordan. The West Bank city of Jericho was visible from the summit, as was Jerusalem.

In 1993, the site was purchased by the Franciscans. [On March 19, 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the site during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, planting an olive tree next to the Byzantine chapel, for peace.]

The temperature must have been about 36oC ... extremely hot for walking ... which we did from where our coach parked and up to the top of the mount.

A large tall marble sort of a monument and another large flat faced stone commemorate Moses.

Under a tent made of rough potato sack-cloth, we could appreciate symbolic figures on two mosaic floors excavated on a site where the foundations of three churches were discovered by a team led by a Franciscan Father in 1933.

In the Memorial Church of Moses we heard Mass.

At sunset, we started on a more than a three hours' drive passing through Madaba and Wadi Mousa (Maltese 'Wied Mosè') desert, on to Petra.


All photos accompanying this article were taken by the author

© Joe Zammit Ciantar

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Part 1

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