* 4 cent. Syn.
* 1 cent. Syn.
* Domus Eccl.
* 2000 - 2003
* The House
* Pictures 1
* Pictures 2
* Pictures 3
* Pictures 4
SURVEYS AND EXCAVATIONS
archaeological site, called at present Kefar Nahum in Hebrew and Talhum in
Arabic, is located on the NW shore of lake Kinneret in Galilee some 210 m below
sea level, 16 km from Tiberias, 3 km from et-Tabgha and 5 km from the upper
The biblical site, though at some distance from modern settlements, can be
easily reached both by land through an asphalt road encircling the lake, and by
boats leaving from Tiberias and from En Gev.
The ancient village was abandoned a millennium ago, but some Arab families of
the Semekiyeh tribe kept living there until the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Two
thirds of the ruins belong to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, while
the remainder on the east side belongs to the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate.
The American scholar E. Robinson, who visited the site in 1838, left the
following description: "The whole place is desolate and mournful. A few Arabs
only of the Semekiyeh were here encamped in tents, and had built up a few
hovels among the ruins which they used as magazines".
Capharnaum prior to 1894
Not far from the lake
shore Robinson noticed "the prostrate ruins of an edifice which, for expense,
labour and ornament, surpasses any thing we have yet seen in Palestine". During
a second visit he correctly identified that building as a synagogue.
The English archaeologist C. W. Wilson in 1866 made in the synagogue a small
sounding, which was still insufficient to provide a reliable plan of the
edifice. Further, he described two monumental tombs, one of which is still
visible some 200 m north of the synagogue.
In the following years the precious remains of the synagogue were heavily
damaged by local Bedouins and by the inhabitants of Tiberias. This pitiable
destruction, deplored in vain by the French traveller Guérin (1880),
continued until 1894. In that year the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land,
through brother Giuseppe Baldi of Naples (below), acquired from the Bedouins the ruins
of the synagogue and a large area of ancient Capharnaum.
property was soon fenced off and protected by stone walls still visible today;
and even the remains of the synagogue were carefully covered with earth for
further protection against any vandalism.
In 1905 Kohl and Watzinger of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft were allowed by
the Franciscans to excavate the synagogue. The cleaning of that imposing
monument was continued in the following years (1906-1915) by the Franciscan
architect Brother Wendelin von Menden, who excavated also a portion of the
ancient village on the W and SW sides of the synagogue, and finally started the
excavations of an octagonal church some 30 m S of the synagogue.
In 1921 Fr. Gaudentius Orfali of Nazareth (below), conducted a short season of
excavations, partly uncovering the octagonal church and exposing an Arab level
of the town in the area between the synagogue and the octagonal church. To this
young Franciscan we owe the restoration of the synagogue.
A long dedicatory
inscription in Latin was engraved on one column of the N stylobate by the
Department of Antiquities to commemorate the event. After Orfali's untimely
death in 1926, no major work was done in Capharnaum for some 40 years.
From 1968 to 1991 the dynamic Franciscan archaeologist Fr. Virgilio C. Corbo
and the writer worked almost without interruption in rediscovering ancient
Capharnaum. The excavations concentrated first on the two public buildings of
the town, namely on the octagonal church and on the synagogue; and our efforts
were rewarded by the sensational discovery of the house of St. Peter and of the
first century synagogue built by the Roman centurion.
Before excavations of 1968
In addition, a large
portion of the ancient village was brought to light, clarifying the long and
fascinating history of the site. Fr. Corbo continued the reconstruction of the
synagogue and completely reshaped the Franciscan property to cope with the ever
increasing number of pilgrims and tourists.
He died on Dec. 6, 1991 and he was
buried in the insula sacra under the modern Church which had been dedicated on
June 29, 1990.
In the meantime Dr. V. Tzaferis of the Department of Antiquities conducted five
seasons of excavations in the Greek-Orthodox property (1978-1982).
© copyright 2001. Text written by Fr. Stanislao
Loffreda ofm. Reproduction, retrieval or redistribution of this material is not
permitted without prior permission of the author reachable at the
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum