Cana in Galilee is celebrated as the scene of Jesus’ first miracle. In the Gospel of John it is the place of the first two public miracles Of Jesus in Galilee; the changing of water into wine and the remote healing of an official’s son 32km away in Capernaum.
Jesus and his disciples turned up at a wedding feast when the wine ran out and so Mary turned to her Son to save the couple from embarrassment (John 2: 1-11). “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” he responded. “My hour has not yet come.” But she persisted and her Son turned six stone water jars holding more than 550 liters of water (equivalent to more than 730 bottles) into fine wine. One such stone jar can be seen in the crypt of the Church. This small stone cistern was found fitted into a flagstone floor.
Cana’s actual location is uncertain, with at least three other possible candidates. One possible site for Cana, preferred by many modern scholars, is the ruined village of Khirbet Kana (Khirbet Qana meaning “the ruins of Cana”)), 12km northwest of Nazareth. But the commemoration of the miracle of the wine is traditionally fixed at Kefer-Kenna (also known as Kefr Kana and Kfar-Cana), about 5km north-east of Nazareth on the road to Tiberias. It is here, by tradition, that the Franciscans, relying on the testimony of early pilgrims including St Jerome, established themselves in 1641.
Archaeology reveals that besides this being a Jewish-Christian synagogue at some stage(presumably second century), it was also a dwelling dating back to the 1st century presumably the residence of the couple who were married by Jesus. Look for the glass roofed cover that protects the place in the crypt area situated a little beyond the stone jar. It was here that an ancient basilica with three apses in cross-like form was first built.
The modern structure that stands today in this tiny by lane goes back to the 1900’s. Don’t miss the text of the narrative found in John 2: 1-11 imprinted on the walls of the lane leading to the Church. Not far from the Franciscan church is the Greek Orthodox Church of the Marriage Feast which also claims to have two of the original water pots but some scholars argue that these may be early stone baptismal fonts.
One of Jesus’ disciples at the time of the wedding was St. Bartholomew, whom some scholars identify with Nathanael of Cana. His home is enshrined as a Church and is no more than a hundred and fifty meters from the Cana Church. Sadly this Church is opened only once a year to all pilgrims.
The second time Jesus visited Cana, he was met by a distressed official of the court of Herod Antipas (John 4:46-49). The official lived at Capernaum which Jesus was soon to make his home town. It was this official that had come to plead for his son, who was dying. Jesus, who had earlier proved he could make good wine from water, now showed he could heal from 30km away. “Go; your son will live,” he told the official.
When we visited the Church its small courtyard was filled with tourists from every nationality. The noise decimal forced Church officials to close the Church door as Mass were being celebrated by an American priest for his pilgrim group. On request we slipped into the Church and to our blessedness reached at the moment that the priest was about to renew the vows of the couples in his group. Mustering up courage I walked to the altar requesting him to kindly accommodate the couples in our group too. He did and the universality of the Catholic Church kicked in.
If you wish, you can purchase a certificate for three or five dollars stating that your marriage vows were renewed in this Church. It makes for a nice souvenir. Toilets are free and rather well maintained.
Fr. Warner D'Souza is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay. He has served in the parishes of St Michael's, Mahim, St Paul's, Dadar East, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bandra and at present is the priest in charge of St Jude Church, Malad East. He is also the Director of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum and is the co-ordinator of the Committee for the Promotion and Preservation of the Artistic and Historic Patrimony of the Church.