On a sunny Sunday morning, I leave the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv behind and head for the north of Israel, to a place that is home to a huge number of Bible Stories, to the homeland of Jesus Christ himself: Galilee.
I was raised a Catholic and although I’m no longer religious, I do look forward to seeing the places I heard so much about during my childhood!
The motorway and skyscrapers soon give way to the verdant hills and the vineyards of the Rothshild family and after a two hours drive I arrive at my first stop: Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus Christ!
Making my way towards the Basilica of the Annunciation, I immediately notice the commercial side of religion: rosaries, crowns of thorns, crucifix necklaces and oh, even “Jesus sandals” are for sale!
To my relief, there’s more serenity inside the Basilica. There are no big tour groups, only a few individual tourists strolling around the site. The Basilica is one of the largest Christian churches in the Middle East. According to the Roman Catholic tradition this is the site where Archangel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was going to give birth to Jesus. The Grotto of the Annunciation, situated in the lower part of the Basilica, is believed to have been the original childhood home of Mary. A group of Spanish-speaking pilgrims is singing hymns in front of it.
After Nazareth, I make my way up, or rather down, to the Sea of Galilee, situated approximately 200m below sea level. A lot of the Biblical stories occurred on the shores of this freshwater lake. It is here that some of the apostles worked as fishermen and where Jesus walked on water. A place steeped in history! Today, tourism is the Sea of Galilee’s most important economic activity, but it still attracts many Christian pilgrims.
I start my tour of the Sea at the Yardenit Baptismal Site. Situated on the banks of the river Jordan, at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, this is said to be the site where Jesus was baptized. Every year thousands of pilgrims follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately I am too late to witness a group getting baptized, but I can still see them buying their DVD at the shop… Baptismal gowns, holy water and rosaries are all for sale here. There’s even an “Essence of Jerusalem” Eau De Toilette! Religion is big business once again…
On the north western shore of the Sea of Galilee, in Tabgha, I arrive at the place where the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes took place. The Church that commemorates this event is unfortunately closed during my visit, but I do get the chance to see the neighbouring church of the Primacy of St.Peter. This place is considered to be the place where Jesus conferred primacy on Simon Peter. (Saint Peter) A group of nuns gather on the shores of the lake, laughing and posing for group pictures. There is no wind at all and the sea looks like one big flat mirror. It’s easy enough to imagine someone walking on it…
My last stop of the day is quite a drive uphill. On the Mount of Beatitudes, Jesus is believed to have delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount. A Roman Catholic Chapel stands on top and the views over the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding banana plantations are amazing! I am far away from the commercial madness here, there is nobody about and I might have found an ideal place for some contemplation. A perfect end to this biblical day!
There are a lot of other sites that refer to Biblical passages. How about walking the Jesus Trail pilgrimage, a 65 km hiking route in the Galilee region that traces the route Jesus may have walked from Nazareth to the Mount of Beatitudes?
And definitely pay a visit to Jerusalem, the place where the 3 main religions come together!
Have you visited any religious sites?