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Capernaum

Home > Jerusalem > Churches | Lakes
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published July 30th 2018
Capernaum, a biblical site mentioned by all four Gospels, is perhaps the best-known site at the top of the Sea of Galilee. Sitting right on its shores, even today, you cannot but feel the magic of the area. The side of the site offers a few benches to view the lake from. You're not supposed to go down to the water's edge - the rocks are too unstable and swimming is forbidden - but you can at least enjoy watching it, and some people do venture to the edge, if not to go in.

capernaum, jesus, st peter, galilee
The Sea of Galilee


Boats sail past, once to catch fish, now truly acting as fishers of men as they take tourists out on the lake. Christian groups might sing from them, wafting the strains of worship across the water. The immense size of the lake, stretching out over the horizon, reminds one that the Greek term for this lake is thalassa, translated as sea.

capernaum, jesus, st peter, galilee
St Peter


The site is dedicated to St Peter. A large statue of him stands in the main courtyard, with queues of visitors surrounding it to have their photograph taken with him.

capernaum, jesus, st peter, galilee
Inside the memorial building


There is a memorial church built above ruins, supposedly of St Peter's house, hovering like a spaceship. With windows all the way round, the views are amazing. Raised seating in the round gives plenty of space for tour groups to come in, and pilgrim groups to engage in acts of worship. You can see the ruins through a glass floor section in the middle.

capernaum, jesus, st peter, galilee
St Peter's house?


This area of the site shows a number of archaeological layers. Private houses from the first century BC (so maybe St Peter), with a significant transformation in the fourth century, and an octagonal church built on top in the fifth century. Capernaum remained a home to normal people, a functioning fishing village, as well as a holy site, for centuries.

capernaum, jesus, st peter, galilee
The synagogue


The rest of the site has a number of other ruins to explore. Perhaps the most interesting is the synagogue right next to the church. Jesus is supposed to have healed the man with the unclean spirit here, healed the Roman centurion's servant, healed the paralytic man. In Matthew 4:12-17, Jesus makes his home there, while in Matthew 11:20-24 he condemns it, and at John 6:22-59 he talks about being the bread of life there.

capernaum, jesus, st peter, galilee
Excavations of the ruins


Inhabited until the eleventh century, this has been a 'real' home for many people, a humble fishing village whose name was immortalised by Scripture. Cited in all four gospels, its importance to the life of Jesus, and therefore the life of Christianity is undeniable. A visit awakens memories of sermons heard, Bible studies attended, RE lessons sat through, this small lakeside village renowned worldwide. The main site accessible to tourists is small, but excavations suggest lots has gone on.

capernaum, jesus, st peter, galilee
Statues in the entrance


It is busy, with limited parking, and controlled access. If you don't want to be part of a huge crowd, try going early or late in the day, perhaps visiting Tabgha or Chorazin at the same time to escape the busiest points. There are souvenirs for purchase, but very few other facilities. The main site is largely flat, although there are steps up to the church. The area, now known as Kfar is also a Franciscan monastery and Greek Orthodox church, so remains a place of active worship. An hour would be enough time for a simple visit, but longer if you want to study the place in detail, relax, or worship.

capernaum, jesus, st peter, galilee
The main Franciscan building


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Why? Home of St Peter and site of miracles
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Where: Capernaum
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