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A new guesthouse, an archaeological site and a uniquely written Catholic mass will bring to life New Testament times in the Galilee.
The Magdala Center, Notre Dame Pontifical Institute's planned guesthouse, is on the shores of the Galilee and hosts a peek into the time of Jesus. Even though the Gospels barely mention the city, Magdala (or Migdal) played a historic role in the 1st century as revealed in the ongoing archaeological dig on the site.
Father Juan Maria Solana, charge of the Holy See at Notre Dame in Jerusalem, is the visionary behind this ambitious project and much needed accommodations. Solana spoke with Travelujah about Notre Dame's plans to continue uncovering the ancient city on the grounds while building the 130-room guesthouse, called Notre Dame of the Galilee.
"I want to believe that there are a couple of gospel miracles that happened in Magdala,” Solana said.
The entire archaeological area uncovered is exclusively 1st century, which is rare. Most sites, even those nearby, usually show an overlap of periods. This one so far is purely Roman era. It has also revealed a community that was likely very wealthy.
“In this synagogue they had a great leader – not common, very rich,” he said.
Solana listed some of the impressive findings in the excavations including a synagogue, a marketplace, a villa, a perfectly preserved mosaic, rooms paved with well-cut stones and three arches, one of which is still standing. The synagogue contains mosaics, a carved stone menorah and frescoes.
Another key find is the port of Magdala, some 50 meters from the current shoreline and near the marketplace. On one side of the port is all the remnants of the lake that had lapped against the wall.
With a villa, a marketplace and a port, Magdala could possibly have been more of a leading town than Capernaum, previously thought of as the “capital” of the Galilee. And the excavations continue.
“We still have a lot of space to dig, dunams and dunams,” Solana said. “We will find many other things, but what we have found until now shows a very leading and active town.”
“For people, especially Christian pilgrims, looking to understand the time of Jesus, we have the time of Jesus seen here, very pure.”
Solana has been consulting with biblical scholars to see if there is a link between Magdala and Jarius, the synagogue ruler whose daughter Jesus raised from the dead. Magdala was one of the larger of the cities in the Galilee at the time of Jesus. According to Jewish historian Josephus Flavius it had a population of 40,000 at the time of the first Jewish revolt (66-70 AD).
Perhaps the most special prospect though is the wooden altar, built in the shape of a first century boat, that Solana designed especially for the site.
Solana spent two years in his spare time composing a mass for the site, drawing from gospel passages regarding Magdala, Jesus, the Galilee, Mary Magdalene, the calling of the first disciples who were on the lake's shores when Jesus called them.
The mass has been approved by the Latin patriarch.
Solana noted the need for accommodations in the Galilee when he first arrived in Israel in 2004. While Jerusalem is already rife with Christian guesthouses, the Galilee is not.
Solana hopes to inaugurate the hotel in December 2012, but will only know next year whether that will be possible. The site is located between the city of Tiberias and Kibbutz Ginossar and is lakefront property of 84 dunams. Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah,
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