Rising 420-meters from the flat Plain of Jezreel is Mount Tabor. It once overlooked a major trade route, and it was the site of several historical battles. Ancient civilizations attached mystical significance to the gently rounded mount and it was believed to be the site where humanity and divinity could interact.
Mt. Tabor is described as sacred in the Old Testament, and, although not mentioned by name in the New Testament, it is believed to be the site of the Transfiguration of Christ. Crowning the mountain are late 19th-early 20th century Catholic and Greek Orthodox monasteries separated by a wall and surrounded by beautiful gardens. The main point of interest for tourists is the Catholic Church of Transfiguration.
The site of the transfiguration is described in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up onto a high mountain. The disciples watched as Jesus became radiant with light. Moses and the Prophet Elijah appeared and Jesus held a conversation with them. It was here that Jesus was called the “Son of God” for the first time. This set Jesus above Moses and Elijah who were the most prominent figures in Judaism at the time.
From the 4th century onward, a succession of chapels and churches were built on Mt. Tabor. All religious buildings on Mount Tabor were destroyed when the Mamluk Sultan Baybars came to power in 1263. For 400 years the mountain remained uninhabited until the Franciscans were permitted to settle there. The monks and pilgrims would climb 4300 steps to reach the summit but today there is a winding road that leads to the summit and the Church of Transfiguration.
The monastery complex was built on the ruins of a 4th-6th-century Byzantine church and a 12th-century Crusader church. The present Catholic Church was designed by famous Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi and completed in 1924. He was responsible for many of the churches in the Holy Land. At the entrance to the Transfiguration Church is a bas-relief of Barluzzi.
The Franciscan basilica facade features two matching bell towers flanking an arched entranceway. The towers house chapels dedicated to Moses and Elijah, who were both present at the transfiguration. Above the entrance, a large plaque bears a Latin inscription from Matthew 17 describing the transfiguration. Inside the church has a long nave and high ceiling. The high ceiling rests on large wood supports, and the main altar is elevated at the eastern end.
Church Crypt: Under the elevated altar is a convex-shaped chapel and part of the earlier Byzantine church. Beautiful paintings on the curved walls of the chapel depict Christ during the transfiguration, ascension, and nativity, and as the lamb of God. Through a glass panel in the floor, you can see partial remains of the Byzantine church that once stood here.
Transfiguration Mosaic: Above the main altar is a gold mosaic depicting transfiguration. In the center of the mosaic is Jesus floating on a cloud, and on either side of him are Peter, James, and John. Floating on clouds alongside Jesus are Moses and Elijah.
Church Grottoes: There are three grottoes that have survived from the Crusader church; they are said to represent the three huts that St. Peter said he wanted to build for his Master, Moses, and Elijah.
The Greek Orthodox church is dedicated to Elijah but is not usually open to visitors.
Interested in visiting churches of Jesus Ministry or Christian sites in Galilee? Then join one of our Christian tour packages! For more information on Catholic churches in Israel, feel free to read our Catholics in Israel article.