Tabor logo

© franciscan cyberspot


  * Main
  * Gospels
  * Transfig. 1
  * Transfig. 2
  * Transfig. 3
  * Mk 9:2-10 A
  * Mk 9:2-10 B
  * Mountain
  * Emir
  * Document
  * Prehistory
  * Pagans
  * Old Test.
  * Rabbinical
  * Greeks
  * Romans
  * Crusaders
  * Post Crus.
  * Franciscans
  * Exploration
  * Sanctuary
  * Recently
  * Today
  * Conclusion
  * Pictures 1
  * Pictures 2
  * Pictures 3
  * Pictures 4

The Franciscans after 1854 - a building project

(by Teresa Petrozzi - translated by Raphael Bonanno ofm)

Matters began to move more rapidly when in 1870 the Father Custos of the Holy Land sent Fra Giuseppe Maria Baldi to take care of Tabor. He began by cleaning the cisterns and he gathered material for the future constructions. After three years he began to build a hall to receive the pilgrims, two rooms and a kitchen.

In 1875 the Franciscans thought to prepare an oratory in two spaces of the Saracen fortress and the first action was to demolish the wall that divided them. The various works were completed by the next year. To decorate the oratory the archduke Salvatore Luigi, brother to the Granduke of Toscany, sent a painting of the Transfiguration which is kept today in the sacristy of the basilica. In 1877 they began to build a tiny convent next to the hall and a Casa Nova (hotel) for the pilgrims, a liitle more to the west. In 1879 the first Franciscan community was established on Tabor; the little convent became a residence in 1888 and the first superior was Fr Alfonso Dombrowski.

In 1889 pilgrims from the United States, hoping to be able to rebuild the basilica, opened a campaign for donations, but the difficulties that arose were too great. At least the archaeological excavations in 1895-97 continued under the superior Fr Marcello Neuvillac and in 1897-1900 under the superior Fr Barnabas Meistermann. The dig showed the base of a Saracen tower (east) and other ruins of the Benedictine monastery (north). Among these latter one could see the chapter hall, the refectory and the kitchen.

Fr Meistermann restored the Bab el-Haua, the gate of the wind, and, because of the property rights, placed the date 1868. In addition, he noticed toward the south of the plateau traces of houses as well as of grottoes, of sepulchers and of tombs carved in shafts, all of which had been violated. He judged that the houses and tombs were of poor people, probably from the time of Flavius Josephus, on which were built the dwellings for the workers in the time of el-Adel. Finally Fr Meistermann described the ruins of the basilica and sketched a plan of them. Substantially he thought that the crusader church was built exactly on top of the Roman-Byzantine church.

The crypt, which corresponded to the traditional site of the Transfiguraton, would have been extended toward the west and would have constituted the venerated spot. Fr Meistermann noted down the columns of a portal (at the sides of “C” in his small plan) and concluded that in a second moment, probably during the truce of Frederick II, the side walls of the church had been extended toward the west. The two chapels so-called of Moses and Elijah, at first independent, would have been at that time incorporated into one single edifice.

In 1909 and years following, the great moat was cleaned out which protected the fortress of el-Adel on the eastern side. The work uncovered the mosaic floor and lower courses of the walls of a Byzantine baptistery. At the same time, due to crowds of pilgrims, the Casa Nova was enlarged and in 1912, Fr Roberto Razzoli, the Custos of the Holy Land, and the engineer, Giulio Barluzzi, brother to the architect Antonio Barluzzi, began studies for the erection of a new church. The Italian-Turkish war caused the suspension of activities and the World War I also directly affected Tabor. In April 1915 the Turkish governor of Nazareth ordered the closure of the little friary in which he left as guardian Fra Joseph Ege, a German. Four months later the Italian religious were deported to Damascus. During a visit to the mountain in August, 1915, General Jamal Pasha collected the diverse archeaological finds of value.

On October 21, 1919, on the occasion of the seventh centenary of the coming of St Francis to the Holy land, under the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Ferdinando Diotallevi, the Cardinal Filippo Giustini, protector of the Order of Friars Minor and Pontifical Legate, laid the cornerstone of the basilica to be erected. In the same year, Fr Godfrey Schilling, Commissary of the Holy Land in Washington, DC.,with the blessing of Pope Benedict XV, started a crusade to collect the necessary funds.

The direction of the work was entrusted to Antonio Barluzzi, author of the design. The architect tells us how he decided on a particular style: “The archaeological excavations brought to light an ancient crypt with a stairway down to it, walls of the apse from three periods super-imposed on each other with slight variations in the gradient [...] In the whole picture one could accentuate the design of a central crypt with a church above with three naves whose side walls relate to the facade of the chapel and the central one to the entrance vestibule. This arrangement, which fulfilled in a certain way the wish of St Peter to construct three tents [...] had a very touching comparison to the plan of some churches of the 5th c. near Aleppo, and near to that of St Simeon the Stylite. This fact would help one accept the suggestion of that rather unknown architecture, Roman-Syrian, which in its main characteristics was decadent classical with a slightly eastern decoration”

In 1920 the Department of Antiquities of the British Mandate government, fearful that the ancient stones would disappear, sent an inspector to examine the plans together with the engineer Liberato Traversa and Fr Antonio Gassi, guardian at Nazareth. He gave assurances that all the ruins would be respected. While the exca- vations were open, the engineer G. Barluzzi sketched a very precise plan in which the Roman and Crusader parts as well as the Arab structures stood out clearly.

The first work began in April, 1921; 20,000 cubic m. of garbage and fill was thrown down the southern side of the mountain and used to create and support terraces for farming. In order to facilitate the transport of materials and food for the 300 workers employed, the Custody of the Holy Land repaired 12 km of road from Afula to the foot of Tabor and substituted the old mule route to the summit with a road for automobiles. It seems that along this latter road there appeared some traces of the 4,340 steps mentioned by Epiphanius the Monk. The necessary water suppy had to be obtained from the plain, as happened in the time of Flavius Josephus.

During his investigations the architect Barluzzi recognized that the cruciform sanctuary, of which various visitors had written, had been originally one of the Turkish baths of the fortress and he noticed some others. Moreover, under the northern wall of the so-called Elijah chapel, he found the tomb of a prelate. There was a body inside, which disin- tegrated on contact with the air, some ribbons of violet silk and a pectoral cross with a double crossbar. Due to the needs of the new construction, they walled up the tomb. One discovery of Barluzzi, which could have been sensational, was the grotto under the crypt.

At the moment of the discovery, the walls of the grotto were still covered by various and precise layers of plaster, which showed it had been a place of cult, with all probability a place of worship of the Jewish Christians. At that time the Jewish Christians were still practically unknown. No one thought of them nor did they examine the layers of plaster for any graffiti. Barluzzi simply thought the grotto was “a rocky space under the altar with an obscure purpose”. Unfortunately the walls of the cave showed serious cracks, perhaps provoked by the earthquakes and the roof threatened to cave in. Instead of strengthening it with pillars, the builders filled it partially with a pile of earth and stones.

The basilica was finished in the spring of 1924. We do not know whether it was a plan or a coincidence: the Custody of the Holy Land took on simul- taneously the construction of the church of the Transfiguration and that of the Agony of Gethsemani. The two edifices were blessed within fifteen days of each other. The link between the episode of the Lord’s glory and of his sorrow was confirmed likewise in stone.

For the cerimonies of the consecration Pius XI sent Cardinal Oreste Giorgi, the Major Penitentiary and protector of the Franciscan Order. On May 31, 1924 Cardinal Giorgi, who was accompanied by the Patriarch of Jerusalem Mons. Luigi Barlassina and by Onorato Carcaterra, OFM., titular bishop of Ipso, was received at the foot of the mountain by Fr Domenico Monaco, superior of Tabor, who met him with a cavalcade of 70 Beduins and Circassians.

The prelates left in the church the relics of the holy martyrs Clement, Urbanus, Lucius and Agatha. After the all night vigil over the relics, on June 1st, the cardinal entrusted the basilica to the promoter of the construction, Fr F Diotallevi, Custos of the Holy Land, and then he consecrated the altar of the central apse. At the same time the Patriarch consecrated the altar of the crypt, the bishop Carcaterra that of the south and Fr Diotallevi that of the north. Once the cerimonies of the altars were finished, Mons. Carcaterra celebrated the Mass. Also present were the Governor of Galilee, the military and civil governors of Nazareth, the Italian vice-consul of Haifa and the two Barluzzi brothers.

  Tabor MainOther Santuaries  


Please fill in our Guest book form - Thank you for supporting us!
Created / Updated Tuesday, December 18, 2001 at 18:24:28 by John Abela ofm
Web site uses Javascript and CSS stylesheets - Space by courtesy of Christus Rex

© The Franciscans of the Holy Land and Malta

cyber logo footer