Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. (Luke 4:31)
Daily 8:30 to 4:45; church closed 11:30 to 3:30
Capernaum is an ancient fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, sitting along a major highway connecting Galilee with Damascus. It isn’t mentioned in the Old Testament, but archaeological evidence suggests it wasn’t inhabited until the 2nd century BC. Capernaum originally was called “Kfar Nahum,” which means “Nahum’s House.” This is not related to the Nahum found in the Old Testament.
In 1838, explorer Edward Robinson stumbled upon the sad and lonely remains of Capernaum. About 20 years later, Charles Wilson, a captain from Britain, identified the remains of a synagogue. Near the end of the 1800s, Giuseppe Baldi, a Franciscan Friar from Naples, was able to recover a large portion of the ruins from the Bedouins living in the area.
The Franciscan order then fenced the ruins in to deter frequent vandalism. Under the direction of Franciscan Virgilio Corbo, they also planted palms and eucalyptus trees to create an idyllic setting for pilgrims visiting Capernaum.
In 1905, Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watziner led excavations of Capernaum. Two Franciscan Fathers, Vendelin von Benden and Gaudenzio Orfali, continued this work. Together these four men uncovered two public buildings, a synagogue and an octagonal church. In 1968, Corbo and Stanislao Loffreda restarted the excavation of the western portion of the site (with money from the Italian government). During this major thrust in excavation, they uncovered a house which claimed to be the house of Saint Peter, where Christ healed a paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends!
Capernaum was probably poor, as its synagogue, according to Luke, was built by a Gentile centurion. The houses were very simple, made out of black basalt stone slabs. The main industry in the time of Christ was most likely fishing.
The synagogue was built with imported lime stone. The white façade would have surely gleamed in the midst of all the simple black houses. The “white” synagogue seems to have been built over a black basalt synagogue. This former basalt synagogue in Capernaum is thought to have been the place where Christ cast demons out of a possessed man.
The church in Capernaum is closer to the shoreline than the synagogue and is typically thought to stand where Peter’s house once was. Of all the religious traditions in the Holy Land, this has the highest probability of being true. The house was situated in the poor section, allowing only for dry stone basalt. Dry stone basalt would have only supported a light roof and no windows, making it easy to lower someone down through the roof as recorded in Mark 2. Records show that this house, among all the others in Capernaum was singled out for gathering as early as the first century after Christ’s death. This would likely be attributed to the fact that it was Peter’s residence.
Both the church and the synagogue were destroyed prior to the Islamic invasion in 638. Capernaum was of no use to the Crusaders because it was too exposed to be a safe place to build churches. Capernaum had been all but abandoned until the 20th century renovations mentioned earlier.