Memorial of Saint Peter; Ruins of the Synagogue
No city other than Jerusalem is mentioned as many times in the gospels as Capernaum. Jesus made it "his town": Here he chose Peter and the other apostles, worked many miracles, and pronounced his discourse on the Eucharist in the synagogue.
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"At Capernaum, in the house of the Prince of the Apostles, a church was built and some of its walls remain today just as they were then. Here the Lord cured the paralyzed man. Here is also the synagogue where the Lord cured the demon-possessed man. Access to it is by many steps; the synagogue was built of four-sided stones." In this text from the Benedictine monk Peter the Deacon (12th century), which repeats the older indications of the pilgrim Egeria (4th century), is reported the essence of the Christian memories of Capernaum, memories preserved in the two sanctuaries of the House of Peter and the Synagogue. The anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza (ca. 570 AD) also records the "house of the blessed Peter that is now a basilica". In the medieval period and later, given that visits by pilgrims had become very difficult, the memory and exact location of the city disappears. The same Arabic toponym, Talhum, preserves only a vague consonance with the ancient Hebrew name Kefar Nahum.
The first building to be excavated by the Englishman C.W. Wilson was the synagogue. In 1894, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land acquired the property on which were the ruins, and more extensive excavations were conducted by the archaeologists H. Kohl and C. Watzinger (1905), Brother Wendelin Hinterkeuser (1906-1915) and Father Gaudenzio Orfali (1921). The sumptuous synagogue, which some opinions date to the time of Jesus (1st century) and others place a bit later (2nd-3rd century), was completely freed of the ruins and partially reconstructed. Not too far from the synagogue, the remains of an octagonal church with Byzantine-era (5th-6th century) mosaics was discovered. Between 1968 and 1992, excavations were again undertaken by the Franciscan archaeologists Virgilio Corbo and Stanislao Loffreda.
The Byzantine church seems to cover a space (insula sacra domus ecclesia) comprising a venerated hall adapted to religious worship and to the visits of pilgrims in the fourth century. The hall, belonging to a residential complex that goes back to the first century BC, was set aside for religious purposes by the Judeo-Christian community of Capernaum from the end of the second century AD. Of the original domestic surroundings that ancient tradition identified with the House of Peter, the best known part is the northern courtyard, which has cooking hearths, stairways for climbing to the roofs and openings into various small rooms; a main door opens onto the road. Surveys under the pavement of the monumental synagogue allow precise dating of its construction to the fifth century AD, but have also demonstrated the existence of earlier synagogues built on the same spot; the oldest goes back to the first century BC.
Surrounding the synagogue and church, numerous houses of the ancient city have been excavated, with remains dating back to the Persian epοc (fifth century BC) and the Bronze age (3rd-2nd millennium BC).
1991 saw the inauguration of the new Memorial (by architect I. Avetta) with the aim of protecting the precious remains of the House of Peter and allowing Christian worship to begin again after centuries of neglect.
1. Remains of the House of Saint Peter and the Byzantine church.
2. Residences of ancient Capernaum.
3. Synagogue (4th-5th century BC).
4. Franciscan Convent of the Eucharistic Promise.
5. Mosaic of the octagonal church.
6. Architectural remains, for the most part belonging to the synagogue building.
Axonometric plan of the insula sacradomus from the fourth century.
A day in Capernaum
Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!" Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!" The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee. On leaving the synagogue he entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you." He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come." So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
The paralytic lowered from the roof
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?"
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, "Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ’Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ’Rise, pick up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth" - he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home." He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."
The Bread of Life Discourse
The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat, but only his disciples had left. Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they had eaten the bread when the Lord gave thanks. When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?"
Jesus answered them and said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal." So they said to him, "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." So they said to him, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ’He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’" So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
Guide: God loves all mankind and wants everyone to attain salvation in his Son, Jesus Christ. Strengthened by this certainty, we pray in faith: All: Hear us, O Lord
1. For the pope, the bishops, priests, deacons, catechists and all those in the Church who are called to the ministry of preaching and teaching, that their words may always be sustained by faith in the Lord Jesus and the project of love and grace that the Lord has for everyone. Let us pray:
2. For all those who are called to aid the suffering so that, like the stretcher bearers of Capernaum, they may courageously testify to faith in Jesus, generous giver of all good gifts. Let us pray:
3. So that we and all believers in Christ, drawn to the light and grace of the bread from heaven, may find the courage to run the course that leads to reciprocal pardon and to full and visible communion. Let us pray:
Guide: Merciful and faithful Father, source of all perfect gifts, turn your gaze on to humanity torn by so many physical and spiritual illnesses and give everyone a renewed hope in the love of Christ so that, moved by the Holy Spirit, all the peoples of the earth might form a single family in the image of your communion of love with the Son and the Holy Spirit. Through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord. All: Amen.