* Transfig. 1
* Transfig. 2
* Transfig. 3
* Mk 9:2-10 A
* Mk 9:2-10 B
* Old Test.
* Post Crus.
* Pictures 1
* Pictures 2
* Pictures 3
* Pictures 4
The Roman-Byzantine period
(by Teresa Petrozzi - translated by Raphael Bonanno ofm)
this period of wars came a time of peace during which monasteries and churches
in memory of the Transfiguration were constructed. The literary sources are
quite rich in information. The book, S.Helenae et Constantini Vita, a
document come down to us from the 11-12th c., but probably written about the
middle of the 7th c., mentions that St. Helena climbed Tabor and that after she
searched for and discovered where the Transfiguration happened, built a church
there in honor of the Savior and his three apostles. The information was
repeated by Nicephorus Callistus (PG 146, 113). We can find an indirect
confirmation in Epiphanius the Monk: although he does not mention the
construction by St. Helena, he said there existed a stairway with 4,340 steps
which started down in the valley up to the top of the mountain (PG 120,272).
Epiphanius---the first author in Greek who, according to his writings, composed
a report on the Holy Places---wrote in 750-800 and based himself on earlier
documents and probably wrote the truth. On the Mount of Olives there was also a
stairway of 800 steps, considered a work of Constantine, that started in the
Kedron valley and climbed to the place of the Lord's Ascension.
In the beginning of the 6th c. there already existed a diocese of Tabor. In the
Jerusalem Synod of 518 a bishop signed in Greek written with Latin letters.
This signature was illegible for the copyists of the acta of the council and
was left aside or only
partially copied, so that the name of the diocese became lost. In 1940 Schwartz
finally deciphered the signature: Prestutus episcopos tu agiu orus
Thabor, Prestutus bishop of the holy mountain of Tabor. As a result the
diocese of Tabor was one of the most ancient of the valley of Esdrelon.
It could be that the Constantinian church had been demolished to make way for
the cathedral and the two chapels. The Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza (570) saw
three sacred buildings and a century later Arculf spoke of a great monastery with three churches and many
cells inhabited by monks. Besides on the top of Tabor, religious lived also on
a little rise to the east of the modern basilica, where the architect Barluzzi
found in 1921 a monastic cell and the remains of a little chapel.
A homily in Armenian on the Transfiguration, dated to about 630---according to
some authors dated to the 5th c.--- and attributed to Eliseus Vardapet, gives
ample information on the life of the hermits.
When the text was written, the community had many, many members who lived more
for the spirit than for the body. Detached from all human desires, they did not
accept gold or silver or clothes or whatever was materially necessary. Clothed
in skins, they worked in silence on the land with wooden hoes, sowed seeds of
wheat, barley and other cereals and, at the time of the harvest, threshed them
in the wind. No four-legged animals were allowed on the mount. With reeds they
made baskets and mats. Food was reduced to the minimum: bread and water
slightly salted which they called ambrosia, very little oil, no wine. The oil
was reserved for the lamps that burned continually in the three churches and
the wine was kept for the chalice at Mass. They had no medicine for the sick
nor any special provisions for the guests. Their only luxury was the use of a
herb, called niv, salt and hyssop, which they drank on the hottest days.
Many added long fasts to this austere program. The privations however did not
harden the hearts of the hermits, who dedicated to their old and sick
brothers---whom they called angels---the attentions they denied themselves. The
lack of physical food was amply balanced by the rich spiritual food. Every day
the monks recited the 150 psalms and read Holy Scripture; for evening and
morning prayers all the community came together and some priests, according to
an established schedule, continued to preside at the liturgies in the three
churches day and night. Therefore these hermits were called the sleepless ones
because they prayed without ceasing.
The text distinguishes three sacred buildings: one large, called the church of
the Lord, and two smaller, called Martyria, dedicated to Moses and
Elijah, where they kept the relics of the apostles who were present at the
The custom of keeping relics in a martyrium, that is in a tiny hole in the
altar or in a small room below the altar, goes back to the 4th c. Often in
Syria and Palestine the relics were placed in chapels built near a church: thus
it was also on Tabor.
The text of Vardapet does not specify whether the hermits were of the Latin
rite (Benedictines ?), Greek or Armenian. Probably monks of different rites
lived together on Tabor as in many other places. It is almost certain that the
bishop Prestutus was Latin; the Armenian pilgrim Anastasius records that the
monastery of Tabor was one of the fifteen establishments left to the Armenians
after the Arab conquest and one document, cited by Alt and by Beyer, lists
among the existing Greek dioceses before the Crusades, that of Tabor.
Only one name of the monks of the Holy Mountain has come down to us: Damian,
native of Syria, who was transferred to Egypt and became the bishop of
Alexandria in 578.
In the 8th c. there existed eulogies of Tabor in Europe. Probably these had
been carried or gathered by St. Angilbert, one of the principal advisers and
confidants of Charlemagne and a disciple of Alcuin. It seems significant to us that Angilbert was the abbot of
the Benedictine abbey of Centula or Saint-Riquier (diocese of Amiens).
It seems that Tabor did not suffer from the invasion of the Persians under
Chosroe (614) and that the religious continued to live on top undisturbed even
after the Arab conquest of 637. Nevertheless the " many, many " hermits of the
Armenian author diminished. In the beginning of the 9th c. the
Commemoratorium de Casis Dei registered 18 monks and Epiphanius the Monk
recorded 12 abbades (PG 120, 272). At the time of the
Commemoratorium there still was the diocese of Tabor presided over by
the bishop Theophanes and four churches existed. Of these, three were dedicated
respectively to the Holy Savior, to Moses and Elijah; the fourth, due to damage
in the original manuscript, remains without a name. Kopp advanced the
hypothesis that it referred to the church dedicated to Melchisedeck.
In 969 Palestine passed from the domination of the Abbassid caliphs to that of
the Fatimids of Egypt. Taking advantage of the fact that the Fatimids had
difficulties in the arab environment, the Byzantine emperor John Zimisce in the
spring of 975 moved towards Palestine. From Damascus his great army descended
into the Galilee, captured Tiberias and Beth Shean and later arrived even to
Acre. In a letter addressed to Ashod III the king of Armenia Zimisce wrote:
Having gone to Tabor, we climbed to the place where Christ our God was
transfigured. The objective of the Byzantine Crusade, which anticipated by 124
years the Latin Crusades, was naturally Jerusalem. Unfortunately Zimisce was
not successful and death came for him in January, 976 before he could fulfil
 Armenian Description of the Holy
Places in the Seventh Century, in PEQ, 1896, 348. The description
was probably written by an Armenian pilgrim, Anastasius, who visited Jerusalem
 Arculf: Adamnani de locis sanctis
libri tres, in P. Geyer, Itinera Hierosolymitana saeculi IV-VIII, Wien 1898, 275.
 B. Bagatti, Gli altari
paleo-cristiani della Palestina , in LA, 7 (1956-57), 80.
 H. Leclercq, see word Archevêque,
in Dictionnaire d'Archéologie Chrétienne et de Liturgie
publié par F. Cabrol et H. Leclercq, vol. I, 2nd part, Paris 1924, col.
 B. Bagatti, Eulogie palestinesi,
in Orientalia Christiana Periodica, 15 (1949), 154.
 The ruins of the church of Moses have
yet to be discovered.