Excavations in Cana

Author: Ignazio Mancini


Ignazio Mancini

Cana of Galilee, today called Kefer-Kenna, at the time of the conquest of the promised land by the Jews, was a small town in that part of the territory of Canaan drawn by lots and won by the sons of Zebulun. It is identified by scholars with Eth-kazin mentioned in the book of Joshua (19:13).

The village is famous for the miracle of the transformation of water into wine worked by Jesus at a marriage feast (Jn :11). The Gospel adds "of Galilee" to the toponym "Cana" to distinguish it from another place of the same name belonging to the tribe of Asher (Jos 9:28), located 12 km. south of Tyre.

In past centuries, as today, Cana of Galilee is a locality on the route from Nazareth to Sephoris.

On this subject, we have the testimony of St Jerome who tells how his disciple St Paula visited Cana while going from Nazareth to Capernaum. The same St Paula with her daughter St Eustochium, when writing to Marcella, states at a short distance from Nazareth they visited Cana where Jesus changed war into wine and, that from here, they continued on to Tabor (Epist. 31). The historian Flavius Josephus writes that Cana occupies a strategic position between Sephoris and Tiberias (Life, 16).

Pilgrims visiting Cana in subsequent centuries say that it is half-way between Sephoris and Nazareth. This is how it is scribed by Theodosius in 530 and by an anonymous traveler from Piacenza in 570.

In St Willebald's Hodoeporicon (723-726) we read that in Cana they saw a large church on whose altar was one of six jars that the Lord had directed to filled with water which he then changed into wine.

n the second half of the 13th century, Louis, King of France, traveled from St John of Acre via Sephoris to Cana of Galilee and from there to Mt Tabor, to", reach Nazareth that same day.

The Franciscan Niccolo da Poggibonsi in 1347, wrote that the castle of Cana Galilee is not big ... inside there is a church where Jesus made wine from water. Da Poggibonsi also speaks of a fountain, and says that its water was used to fill the jars whose contents Christ then turned into wine (Baldi Ench., n. 258).

In 1551-64, Fr Bonifacio da Ragusa found the church in ruins and Muslims showing pilgrims the site of the miracle.

In 1641, the Franciscans were able to buy a house near the shrine. They attempted in vain to buy the shrine itself. Only later, in 1879, with the support of the governor of Damascus, Midath Pasha, could they build a perimeter wall to enclose the whole area surrounding the shrine, which they had gradually succeeded in purchasing.

At the end of 1881 they were able to build a chapel. The work was carried out in great haste for reasons, says Fr Meistermann, that are easily understood by those who-know Jesus' country, and without previous archaeological excavations (Guida di Terra Santa, Florence 1925, p. 553). In 1901 the chapel proved too small to accommodate the needs of the parish and the pilgrims, and so the present church was built.

Today the Custody of the Holy Land has begun major reconstruction work on the shrine of Cana. The project, already under way so that it will be completed for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, is for a two-story building for worship: the lower floor with the shrine and the architectural remains of the past will be reserved for the pilgrims and visitors and the upper one for parish functions.

Before starting the restoration work, as is done elsewhere at sites of this kind, it was decided to explore the area underground, and to entrust this task to Fr Eugenio Alliata, professor of archaeology of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum near the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem.

During the excavations, still incomplete, Fr Alliata discovered the remains of buildings, including an apse with a tomb that dates to the fifth-sixth centuries.

The apse faces north, while the tomb is on the east-west axis. Fr Alliata always very prudent in his statement, is convinced that these are indeed the ruins of a Christian building Of worship which confirms the antiquity of that shrine.

As well as the apse of the Byzantine church, the Franciscan archaeologist has found remains of dwellings in use between the first and the fourth centuries in the area below the modern sacristy, and he has ascertained that the small stone cistern in the crypt dates to the first century and was fitted into a flagstone floor.

With these excavations still in progress, Fr Alliata has also thrown new light on the area of the Aramaic inscription that was previously visible: that is to say the entrance portico of the synagogue, discovered by Fr Stanislao Loffreda, O.F.M. in 1969, the centre of which is a cistern.

Fr Bagatti writes of this synagogue: The building would have been turned into a church when the owners, grateful for the benefit granted them by the Lord, had given up their home for it to be transformed into a place of worship. It would thus have become a Jewish-Christian synagogue, and subsequently a church (Antichi villai cristiani di Galilea, Jerusalem, p. 4,

Thus, even the shrine of Cana would provide us with archaeological evidence for the first century, so filling the gap of the first four centuries.

According to Fr Bagatti, in Roman times the village of very large. Today's village covers only part of it: the other part lay to the north of the road that descends from Nazareth to Tiberias, opposite the modern village, a site today called Karm er-Ras. Here Fr Bagatti, in a search that lasted many years (Liber Annuus, 1963, pp. 263-290), found some bases of columns, to which Fr Meistermann already refers in the above-mentioned Guida di Terra Santa (p. 549) and he became convinced that a synagogue of the usual Galilean type existed here. When in the same village, Fr Bagatti continues, the remains of an ancient synagogue and those of a building for Christian worship we are led to consider the old village as an important settlement with two communities. Based on knowledge of other Jewish-Christian settlements, we can therefore assume that Jews lived in one part of the village and Jewish-Christians in the other (p. 42).

There is no doubt that the new data now in our possession confirm the tradition of the shrine of the wedding of Cana. In order to respond to the requests from the various associations inspired by the Christian doctrine of marriage and the family, the Custody of the Holy Land has decided to found a centre at which those who so wish can stay longer for deeper reflection. No one can fail to grasp the significance of this centre next to the shrine that recalls the first sign worked by Jesus, by which he began the Messianic revelation, and Mary's first intervention of mediation.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
26 August 1998, page 4

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