Holy Land – Church of the Multiplication of fish and loaves.

Holy Land – Church of the Multiplication of fish and loaves.

The shores of Galilee play host to a number of events in the life of Jesus ministry. On these same shore stands the village of Tabgha. The town is on the north western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Tabgha is a corruption of the Greek name, Heptagon, which refers to the seven springs which flow into the Kinneret or Kinnereth (another name for Lake Galilee). The place is 200 meters below sea level and in summer is very hot and humid. Even winters are rarely cold even when it rains.

Whether Tabgha was actually the location of the miracle is not known for sure but tradition holds this place as the location for the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish described in the Gospel of Mark 6:30-44. The Gospel account of the loaves and fishes does not specify where it took place; only that it was in a “remote place” (6:32, 35) on the shores of Galilee.

courtyard of the Church

The Spanish pilgrim Egeria (the nun) visited this church in the 380 AD and wrote that people would break off pieces of the stone on which Jesus served the meal and they would use the stone as a talisman. She noted that there was a small chapel or shrine which was significantly enlarged around the year 480 AD.  The foundations of this chapel have only been partially uncovered. An inscription attributes its building to the patriarch Matryrios (478-86) which included the addition of the splendid floor mosaic

In the 5th century the chapel was replaced with an extensive monastery that included several rooms and elaborate mosaic floors. Around the 7th century in 685 AD this monastery was destroyed. The site was bought by the Deutsche Verien vom Heilige Lande and excavated in 1932; a protective cover was built over the mosaics in 1936. In 1982 this was replaced by the modern Church of the Multiplication of the loaves and fish that stands today, which is a faithful reconstruction of the original and incorporates elements of the original 4th and 5th century structures

Under the altar table is a block of limestone (1 x 0.6 x 0.14m) venerated as the table of the Lord which is believed to be the surface where Christ placed the loaves and fish. In front of the altar is a lovely restored mosaic of two fish flanking a basket of loaves.

There are other restored 5th century mosaics in the church depicting flora and fauna in great detail. The mosaic depicts birds and plants, with a prominent place given to the bell-like lotus flower. This flower is not found in the area and indicates the influence of the Nilotic landscapes (inspired by the Nile) then popular in Hellenistic and Roman art. It is the earliest known example of a figured pavement in Palestinian Christian art.

However, all the other motifs depict flora and fauna from Galilee. The level of detail allows the identification of each species. There are charming “ducks in love” in the lower centre and a depiction in the upper left of the round tower (nilometer) that was used to measure water level. Also visible are the Greek letters for the numbers 6 to 10. Unfortunately most of this gets lost under foot by thousands of pilgrims.

What remains of the 4th century original chapel can be seen through a glass panel.  In the church courtyard stands the basalt presses and font from the original chapel. The Church of Multiplication was heavily damaged after a fire broke out on Thursday, June 18, 2015. A passage from a Jewish prayer, calling for the wiping out of idol worship, was found scrawled in red spray paint on a wall outside the Catholic church. Two Jewish extremists were later indicted for the crime.

On February 12, 2017, Cardinal Rainer Woelki  lead a mass at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in Tabgha, , upon its reopening following eight months of renovation

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