Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in Tabgha

Monday, 25 January 2016 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Union for the Mediterranean

Mosaic in the church © Berthold Werner

Mosaic in the church © Berthold Werner

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, shortened to The Church of the Multiplication, is a Roman Catholic church located at Tabgha, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The modern church rests on the site of two earlier churches. The church is maintained and overseen by the Benedictine Order. Nearby are other Christian sites, especially the Mount of Beatitudes north, Capernaum and Bethsaida east and Magdala to the south of Tabgha.

The earliest recording of a church commemorating Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand is by the Spanish pilgrim Egeria circa AD 380.

“Not far away from there (Capernaum) are some stone steps where the Lord stood. And in the same place by the sea is a grassy field with plenty of hay and many palm trees. By them are seven springs, each flowing strongly. And this is the field where the Lord fed the people with the five loaves and two fishes. In fact the stone on which the Lord placed the bread has now been made into an altar. Past the walls of this church goes the public highway on which the Apostle Matthew had his place of custom. Near there on a mountain is a cave to which the Savior climbed and spoke the Beatitudes.”

Mosaic in the church © Berthold Werner Exterior of the church © David Shankbone/cc-by-sa-3.0 Interior of the church © Berthold Werner Church of the Multiplication © Berthold Werner Courtyard © David Shankbone/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Exterior of the church © David Shankbone/cc-by-sa-3.0
The church was significantly enlarged around the year 480 with floor mosaics also added at this time. These renovations are attributed to the patriarch Matryrios. In AD 614 Persians destroyed the original Byzantine church, and the exact site of the shrine was lost for some 1,300 years. In 1888 the site was acquired by the German Catholic society (Deutsche Katholische Palaestinamission) which was associated with the Archdiocese of Cologne. An initial archeological survey was conducted in 1892, with full excavations beginning in 1932. These excavations resulted in the discovery of mosaic floors from the 5th-century church, which was also found to be built on the foundations of a much smaller 4th-century chapel. The current church was built to the same floor plan as the 5th-century Byzantine church. Since 1939 it has been administered by the Benedictine order as a daughter-house of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem.

The interior of the church has a central nave and two aisles. The sanctuary is backed by an apse with transepts on either side. Under the altar is a block of limestone found during excavation, that is venerated as the stone on which the miraculous meal was laid. One of the main highlights of the church are its restored 5th century mosaics. These mosaics are the earliest known examples of figured pavement in Christian art in the Holy Land. The mosaics in the two transepts depict various wetland birds and plants, with a prominent place given to the lotus flower. This flower, which is not indigenous to the area, suggests the artist’s use of a Nilotic landscape popular in Roman and early-Byzantine art. All the other motifs depict plants and animals from the Galilee. The mosaics found in front of the altar depict two fish flanking a basket containing loaves of bread. Also preserved in the modern church are the sill of the left entrance to the atrium, basalt paving stones, and part of the apse frieze. The foundations of the original 4th-century church can also be seen under a glass panel to the right of the altar. Basalt presses and a font are also displayed in the courtyard.

On 17 June 2015, the church was significantly damaged by an arson attack committed by Jewish settlers (Price tag policy). Hebrew graffiti, with the words “false idols will be smashed”, was sprayed on the church walls and follows a history of Jewish extremist arson and graffiti attacks against Christian and Muslim sites since 2013 in Israel and Palestine. Israeli officials have labelled the attack as “terrorism”. “Whatever repairs are not covered by insurance must be paid for by the Israeli government,” said Wadie Abunassar, media spokesman for the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. “We believe this attack was tantamount to a terror attack, and when there is a terror attack the state is responsible for paying for compensation and prosecutes the perpetrators.” In late July 2015, four Israeli Jews age 18 to 24 and an unnamed minor from the extremist stronghold Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank were arrested by the Israel police and indicted for the arson. The suspects are reportedly associated with the Jewish extremist, ultra-nationalist Hilltop Youth. In the course of 20 months of renovation work, the damage caused could be remedied.

Read more on Sacred-Destinations.com – Church of the Multiplication and Wikipedia Church of the Multiplication (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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