The Church of the Multiplication of the loaves and Fish, also known as Tabgha, is located in the Lower Galilee on the north western shores of the Sea of Galilee, the Kinneret. As the Kinneret is 200 meters below sea level the summer is very hot and humid and the winter is rarely cold even when it rains.
Close by is Capernaum, the city which was on the border between the kingdoms of Galilee and Golan in the 1st century.
Tabgha is a corruption of the Greek name, Heptagon, which refers to the seven springs which flow into the Kinneret and which, according to the Jewish Roman historian, had their source in the Nile River in Egypt. Hence perhaps the Nilometer in the center of the 5th century mosaic floor.
This is the traditional site where Jesus is believed to have performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish.
The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish
The New Testament (Mark 6:30, 44) describes how Jesus fed 5,000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus and his disciples sailed out on the Sea of Galilee to “a remote place” (the location is not specified) they were seeking some tranquility and solitude but people ran ahead to meet them from the surrounding villages. When evening came Jesus, his disciples and 5,000 people who had gathered there were too far from any villages to get something to eat. So Jesus performed the miracle of dividing the food that the disciples had brought with them – five loaves and two fish – between the multitudes. The people ate until they were sated and there were even twelve baskets of left over broken pieces of bread and fish which the disciples gathered at the end of the meal (Mark 6:40-44).
Whether Tabgha was actually the location of the miracle is not known for sure but early Christian pilgrims believed it to be so and the tradition has persisted. A Spanish pilgrim in c. 380 AD wrote that people would break off pieces of the stone on which Jesus served the meal and they would use the stone as a talisman.
The church of the multiplication
Since the Byzantine era religious buildings have been constructed on sites in the Galilee commemorating the miracles Jesus performed during his ministry. During the time Christ spent preaching in Galilee he performed most of the well known miracles including that of the multiplication of the loaves and fish which took place in the village which is now Tabgha. The town is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee in a valley blessed with several natural springs. The original church was built in the 4th century AD and was a small chapel and shrine, the foundations of this chapel have only been partially uncovered. In the 5th century the chapel was replaced with an extensive monastery that included several rooms and elaborate floor mosaics. Around the 7th century this monastery was destroyed, only in 1980 the monastery and part of the original chapel were restored including some of the decorative art.
The modern church that stands here today incorporates elements of the original 4th and 5th century structures. The church has two aisles and a central nave as well as a sanctuary. The most significant element of the church is the limestone slab, the Table of the Lord, under the altar which is believed to be the surface where Christ placed the loaves and fish. The mosaic discovered adjacent to the slab of limestone features two fish on either side of what appears to be a basket containing bread. There are other restored 5th century mosaics in the church depicting flora and fauna in great detail. The mosaic is the earliest known figured pavement art in Christian Palestine. What remains of the 4th century original chapel can be seen through a glass panel and in the church courtyard stands the basalt presses and font from the original chapel.
Text content copyrights: Bein Harim Ltd., Beryl Ratzer (www.ratzer.com)
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