Kursi: And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. (Luke 8:26-27)
Just 500 meters from the shores of the Sea of Galilee, among the Golan Heights, lays the small village of Kursi. Magdala lies across the lake and faces this famous town. Kursi is very near the intersection of the peripheral coastal road and the road that leads eastward up the hills of Golan Heights. This town not far from Tiberias is home to the largest Byzantine monastery.
This monastery complex has many layers of stone steps and terraces. Once protected by a huge tower, the church now sits behind a beautiful atrium. The southern hills of Golan Heights in the distance make this expansive complex at Kursi a majestic destination. On the east side of the basilica is an apse where the original altar used to be. There is also a large prayer room surrounded by six huge columns. On the floor north aisle of the basilica are beautiful mosaic renderings of birds, fruit and fish.
There is also a chapel on the south side of the basilica. On the floor of this small chapel is a stone lid covering an ancient crypt that once contained 30 male skeletons of the monks who resided there. This sprawling complex also contains a baptistery and an oil press, and excavations have uncovered the remains of a residential area where the monks had their living quarters behind the chapel.
In the Bible, Jesus is said to have driven demons out of a madman after sailing across the Sea of Galilee. Though this city is called Gadarenes, Kursi seems to be the likely location of the miracle. Kursi is on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, as described in the Biblical account of where Jesus was coming from. In addition, Christian tradition calls Kursi “Gergesa,” which is quite similar to “Gadarenes.”
The Talmud actually lists a Gentile town called Kursi around the time of Jesus. In the Biblical account, Jesus put the demons in a herd of pigs. According to Jewish dietary laws, those pigs would have had to been raised by Gentiles. So, this further supports Kursi being the place of this miracle of Jesus.
The site was established as a sacred destination in the 5th century AD. The monastery was then built and protected by stone walls. The monks added the baptistery in the 6th century AD. When the Persians invaded in 614, the monastery at Kursi was damaged but then rebuilt. There was a fire in the 8th century that damaged it bad enough that the monastery and chapel have never been used for worship or prayer again. The area was briefly used as a residential lodging for Arabs.
Road workers uncovered the ruins in 1970. Excavations, led by the Department of Antiquities, then uncovered the monastery, monks’ residences, olive press, chapel and basilica. By 1982, the complex at Kursi was open for the public and declared a National Park.