Day 3 – Church of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, Sea of Galilee,
Jordan, Mount Carmel and the Tomb of St. George
Our Indian guide is a mallu from Kottayam. I dub him Jack, for obvious reasons. Like a true mallu he loves his voice and loves it even more over a loudspeaker. He drones on for the nth time since we started out that he made special efforts to include a lot more holy sites than the regular circuit because ours is a ‘special group’. He intones that one should read up on the significances of the visited places from the Bible to make it more meaningful. Muchas gracias Jack, we are such ignoramuses that we need you to tell us that.
The Church of the Beatitudes is on a hill beside the Sea of Galilee. This is the spot of the famous Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus enumerated the Beatitudes. It is said that the crowd that heard him numbered around 5000. Nearby is the Church of Multiplication where the five loaves and two fishes miracle happened. The church is again built on top a 4th century Byzantine Church, the mosaic from the ancient church is still visible. The area around the church is called Tabgha or place of Seven Springs. For me the hero of this story is the young lad that carried the bread and fish that his mother had packed for him as he set out to listen to the young Rabbi from Nazareth. And how innocently he handed over his lunch without a murmur to the disciples as they scoured for food for the hungry crowd. Imagine the spring in his step as he dashed home to tell his mother how Jesus created a miracle from the lunch packet that she had forced him to carry.
Jack hurries us, ‘Make fast’, he exhorts. Capharnaum, or Capernaum is called the Town of Jesus. The ruins of house of Peter is here. The ruins of an old synagogue lies adjacent to the site. Even in its dilapidated condition the structure is imposing with huge Romanesque pillars and massive walls. A group of American tourists armed with guitars and keyboard sing a gentle song and bow their heads in prayer. A statue of Peter in gardens has this inscription at its foot, ‘Thou art Peter And Upon This Rock Will I Build my Church’. The boat trip on the Tiberias is as good as any boat trip around a lake. The boatmen hoisted the Indian flag and played the national anthem and some in the group in a sudden burst of patriotism saluted the flag and bellowed out the anthem, nothing like an overseas trip to inject patriotism that usually is missing in India.
On the road to Jordan, Waleed proudly tells us about the War of Six Days when a young Israel famously defended itself against its three neighbours, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The River Jordan begins in the Golan Heights runs into Lake Tiberias and then ends up in the Dead Sea, a distance of 360 kilometres. The river is called Yardenit in Hebrew. The place is abuzz with activity, people in white robes are being baptised in the river as shouts rent the air. I wade into the cool water take a drink of the water and fill a bottle. I get a ticklish pedicure from the fish in the river. Lunch is served at the restaurant beside the river, besides the usual kubbus, hummus, pickled veggies the waiter slams a whole grilled fish with lightly seasoned rice. ‘Peter’s fish’, he says at every table. The story goes that when Peter asked Jesus about the need to pay taxes to Rome, Jesus asked him to go and cast his net in the sea and open the mouth of the first fish he caught and take out the coin that he would find inside it. He then asks Peter whose face he saw on the coin, to which Peter says that it is of Caesar. Jesus then says those immortal lines, ‘Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s’. The fish tasted good, but the hummus was the highlight of the meal.
We pass the Mediterranean and the Haifa port as we ascend to Mount Carmel. Spectacular garden-lined and well laid out streets take us past the beautiful Gardens of Haifa. Mount Carmel is atop a hill that overlooks the deep blue Mediterranean. The church has a cave that Elijah stayed in. Around two and a half hours out past is the town of Lod, the place that has the tomb of St. George. The board outside takes me by surprise it changes the beliefs I have had over the years, it says St. George was a soldier of the Imperial Roman Army and was executed for spreading the word of Christianity and was buried in Lod. The church shares a wall with a mosque and is administered by the Greek Orthodox Church. The tomb is a floor below in a low roofed cave. The murals and pictures are in the Byzantine style. The muezzin’s call to prayer reverberates in the air as we return.
We pass through the beautiful city of Jerusalem and we cross into Bethlehem in Palestine. There is a massive intimidating wall that greets us at the check post, I am told there are 700 others across this wall that runs 800 kms. Waleed is intrigued when I tell him that we have a dwindling Jewish community back in Kochi with one of the oldest synagogues in the world with one of the oldest Torahs preserved there. He was not aware that we had Jews in Mumbai and the North East as well.