Holy Land – Experiencing the ‘be happy attitudes’ on the Mt of Beatitudes
Standing on the Mount of the beatitudes, on the north western shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and Gennesaret I celebrated the Eucharist with 46 pilgrims. This was one of the most moving and emotional moments of my life. It is extremely humbling to be preaching the very spot that Jesus himself preached. I was overcome with emotion as I began the celebration of the Eucharist becoming painfully aware of my own unworthiness yet also recognising how blessed I am to be called to serve in his vineyard.
The actual location of the Sermon on the Mount is not certain (Matthew 5:1-7:28), but the present site has been commemorated for more than 1600 years. This hillcrest of Eremos (a Greek word meaning solitary or uninhabited) offers an enchanting vista of the northern part of the lake, the cliffs of the Golan Heights on the opposite side and also the surrounding villages. The cragginess of this hill meant it was left uncultivated and enabled Jesus to gather large crowds around him without causing damage to the farmers.
The 4th-century pilgrim Egeria (a nun) records a tradition that may go back to the Jewish-Christians of Capernaum. She tells of a cave in the hillside at the Seven Springs, near Tabgha, “upon which the Lord ascended when he taught the Beatitudes”.
Eremos’ highest point is 58 metres (190 ft) below sea level, which is approximately 155 metres (509 ft) above the surface of the lake. The Mount of Beatitudes is also understood to be the place where Jesus met his apostles after his Resurrection and commissioned them to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:16-20).
A Byzantine church was erected nearby in the 4th century, and it was used until the 7th century. Its ruins have been discovered downhill from the present church. The new Church of the Beatitudes, an elegant octagonal building with colonnaded cloisters, blends into the slope rather than dominating it.
It was built in 1938 for a Franciscan order of nuns and designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi who is responsible for most of the new Churches in the Holy Land. This Church was largely financed by the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
The church is Neo-Byzantine in style with a marble veneer casing the lower interior walls and gold mosaic in the dome. The floor plan is octagonal, the eight sides representing the eight beatitudes which are also represented in Latin in the upper windows. The centrally placed altar is surmounted by a slender arch of alabaster and onyx. Around it, the seven virtues (justice, charity, prudence, faith, fortitude, hope and temperance) are depicted by symbols in the mosaic floor.
In the landscaped garden also have three altars which are provided for group worship. Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II celebrated Mass at the church during their pastoral visits to the Holy Land
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