Gospel Places at the Sea of Galilee

Tabha - Heptapegon (Seven Springs)

Et Tabha is a corruption of the Greek word Heptapegon which means "Seven Springs". Indeed this shore of the Sea of Galilee has geothermal saline springs which warms the water and fishing on the Sea is best in this area. For instance, the famous St. Peter's tilapia fish loves the warm water!

 

Flavius Josephus, the Roman Jewish historian, tells us that the soil in this region was particularly rich and there was “not a fruit tree which would fail to grow here”. Two thousand years later,  his words are confirmed while viewing  the nearby fields and groves of bananas, olives, mangos and avocados. 

 

In this area, there are two churches which are venerated as holy sites where Jesus performed the Miracle of the Feeding of 5,000 and where He appeared to the disciples for the third time after His resurrection when He admonished Peter to “feed My sheep”. 

Holy Sites

According to the earliest Byzantine Christian tradition in the 4th century CE, the shore of the Sea of Galilee is identified as a place where Jesus and His disciples would often gather. 

 

The history of the area may have been preserved by a certain Jew named Joseph who was from Tiberias. He was coverted to Christianity and later helped identify these sites based on local tradition. 

The Church of the Multiplication

Multiplication church
Multiplication church
The altar of the Multiplication church. The stone underneath the altar is believed to be the one where the miracle occurred
The altar of the Multiplication church. The stone underneath the altar is believed to be the one where the miracle occurred

On this site located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Catholic priests from  Germany built a hostel for pilgrims in 1889. Later, the beautiful mosaics from the Byzantine St. Joseph's Church were discovered, dating from the 4th to 5th centuries.

 

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes was constructed  at the same place in 1982,  preserving the ancient mosaic floor.  This site is traditionally accepted as the place where Jesus performed the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 with an abundant supply of food for the multitude from a boy’s lunch of 5 barley loaves and 2 fish.

 

Lady Egeria, a pilgrim from Spain,  visited the Land in the 4th century and mentions the church at the site where the faithful venerated the miracle of multiplication. The Gospel says:

“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

 

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’

 

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him,‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.

 

Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.  And when they had eaten their fill, He told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.

 

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” (John 6:1-14).

The famous mosaic depicts 4 (?) loaves of bread and two fish with the dorsal and belly fins. There 22 birds depicted on the mosaic floor.

Church of the Primacy of Peter

The Church of Primacy of Peter.
The Church of Primacy of Peter.

Lady Egeria, visited the area around 381 AD and recorded there were “some stone steps where the Lord stood." Although she did not specifically report a church, it is known there was one on the site around 350 AD. In its east end, there was a flat rock which was  stated to be the table on which Jesus offered breakfast to the disciples when he appeared to them at the Sea of Galilee following His resurrection. It was the third time He had appeared to His followers and enabled them to catch a miraculous amount of fish!

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

 

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’

 

So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.  That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 

 

The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

 

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’

 

Now none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after He was raised from the dead” (John 21:1-15).

 

On this occasion, Jesus admonished Simon Peter three times to feed His sheep: 

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ’Simon, son of Jonah, do you truly love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord’, he said, "you know that I love you". Jesus said, "Feed my sheep’” (John 21:15). 

 

In the 9th century, the church was referred to as the Place of the Coals, referring to the fire which Jesus made to cook the fish. The church survived longer than any other church in the area but was finally destroyed in 1263. The present Franciscan chapel was built on the site in 1933, although the walls of the late 4th-century church are clearly visible on three sides.

The rock which serves as a church's foundation has steps leading to the water, perhaps part of the ancient fisherman's wharf. The rock inside the church is called Mensa or Tabula Christi ("the table of Christ"). It is believed that He prepared a breakfast for the disciples here.