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Archaeological Excavations at Cana of Galilee

Recent excavations carried out by Fr. Eugenio Alliata ofm (SBF - Jerusalem)

NB. a series of pictures related to the recent excavations are available here
select and click on any number to see a picture with a short explanation



The toponym found in the Old Testament refers to a locality belonging to the tribe of Aser located near the city of Sidon (Js 19,28) which locality is generally identified with the village of the same name 10km to the Southeast of Tyre.

The Gospel of John places the first of the signs performed by Jesus in the locality of Cana of Galilee where he changed the water into wine during a marriage celebration (Jn 2, 1.11). In the same village Jesus performs his second miracle, from a distance, when he cures the servant of the roman centurion (Jn 4,46). Nathaniel, one of the disciples of Jesus, was from Cana of Galilee (Jn 21, 2).
view of cana
(Left: View of the Latin Franciscan Church at Cana)

The historian Josephus Flavius recounts how he, during the first Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-70 AD) stayed for some time "in a village of Galilee named Cana" (Life 16, 86).

We find also that in this village there lived the members of the family of Eliashib, one of the 24 priestly families (mishmarot).

St. Jerome distinguished Cana of Js 19,28 from the Cana of Galilee of John, making it clear that during this period (IV century) Cana of Galilee was identified with a particular village (Onomasticon 117, 3: "est hodie oppidum in Galilaea gentium").

The pilgrims, including St. Jerome, commemorated the first miracle of Jesus and the beginning of his public ministry, in a locality of Galilee quite near the town of Nazareth. Initially they (Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza, Willibaldus) mention a church and later on (medieval period) the ruins of the same. The Anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza wrote in 570: "after walking three miles (from Diocesarea-Seforis), we arrived at Cana, where the Lord was present for the marriage, and we sat at the same place, there I, the unworthy, wrote the names of my parents. There are still two vases, I filled one of them with water and out of it I poured wine; full as it was I placed it on my shoulder and placed it on the altar; then we washed at the spring for the blessing" (Itinerarium 4, 4-5).

Today we have two localities which maintain the name of the Gospel village: the ruins of Khirbet Qana and the village of Kefer Kenna.
Khirbet Qana, lies on an isolated hilltop at al-Battuf to the North of Seforis, on the road which joins Acre with the Lake of Galilee. Here the explorers had noted the remains of a small village with tombs and a columbarium. A multi-plastered grotto reveals traces of a medieval cult. and there is no spring nearby.

The village of Kefer Kenna lies 6km to the North of Nazareth on the road which goes down to Tiberais on the Lake of Galilee. At the centre of the village, where today rises the Church built by the Franciscans in 1881, archaeological remains have come to light in different archaeological soundings . Just outside the village there is a spring while roman tombs were found at the peak of Karm el-Ras to the west of the village. Other monumental remains at the centre of a roman enclave were found on the peak of Khirbet Kenna which the locals call el-Dayr - the monastery.

(Left: Another view of rhe Parish of Cana)

In 1641 the Franciscans tried to acquire some remains at Kefar Kenna, an intricate deal carried out with patience and sacrifice which went on for almost two hundred years and was concluded only in 1879. During these years the friars were using an Arab house close to the ancient ruins, which house was enlarged in 1881 by Fr Aegidius Geissler, which was later on renewed with a new façade in 1901. The main altar of the Church was consecrated on 30th September 1906 by the Archbishop of Bergamo, Mons. Giacomo M. Radini Tedeschi who was accompanied by his secretary, Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII who on this particular day wrote: "I am leaving Cana, but not without leaving a greeting, a cordial vote: (...) May the Lord make that this new altar which today was consecrated and dedicated to the 'mysterium initii Signorum Jesu' calls around it all the dispersed souls and gathers them in the unity of the catholic faith, in the favoured and constant practice of the Christian life".
The 1997 Excavations

(Left: Plan of the Excavations carried out in 1997:
Colours referred to in the report by Fr. Alliata hereunder)

During summer-autumn 1997 in conjunction with the restructuring works undertaken at the franciscan church of Cana in Galilee, it was possible to perform an archaeological excavation with the following results:

  1. The Franciscan Chapel of 1881 (in black). It was built by Fr. Aegidius Geissler, the first Latin parish priest of Cana, immediately after the ransom of the sanctuary. The nave of the first church corresponds to the first part of the actual church. The crypt was originlly reached by a stairway through an entrance at the back of the church, which entrance was moved to within the church itself. This new entrance remained in use even after the enlargement of the church (1901) till this day.

  2. The Medieval edifice (XIV cent.?). This was a large hall divided by a row of colums (in green). The edifice is described by the pilgrims of the XVII cent as an ancient church which had fallen under the moslems. The place of the miracle of Jesus was venerated in an underground area. The franciscan chapel partially occupied this edifice re-using its north wall.

  3. A christian funerary edifice (V-VI cent.). Only an apse containing a tomb remains (in red). The apse is oriented towards the north but the tomb lies on the east-west axis, as is common for christian tombs. We found the tomb already opened and partially destroyed and did not contain any human remains. Fr. Geisser had already seen both the tomb and the apse, as one can see from a short note he wrote (Der Kreuzfahrer Kalender, 6, 1898, p. 68 - reproduced at the end of this report). Basing himself on this find he took care to enlarge the first church giving it its actual shape with three apses in cross like form. The north apse of the actual church lies exactly on the ancient apse. The anomalous orientation of the discovered apse (north instead of east) might have induced Fr. Geissler not to publicize further the discovery, which in fact was completely ignored by all.

  4. A porticoed atrium (V cent.). The well-known aramaic inscription "Blessed be the memory of Yoseh, son of Tanhum..." belonged to the mosaic floor of this atrium. No further remains of the mosaic were discovered but we noticed that the mosaic bed continues all through the area. The atrium, of which we can distinguish two distinct phases (phase 1 in yellow; phase 2 in orange), belongs to a jewish religious building, mainly to a synagogue already identified by Fr. Loffreda in the excavations of 1969 in the courtyard north of the present church. The atrium, which had a columned portico all around, extended under all the medieval edifice and had at its centre a cistern. The aramaic inscription was located by the eastern wall of the atrium.

  5. Remains of dwellings in use between the I and the IV century (in blue). The remains were mainly discovered in the south area of the porticoed atrium (ex-sacristy). The stone basin which was already visible inside the crypt was infixed in a large slabbed floor with traces of plaster. This floor and the stone basin can both be dated to the first century.

The communique of Fr. Geissler as presented by another person in:
Der Kreuzfahrer Kalender, 6 (1898) p. 68 (translation from the original in german)

"The Rev. Fr. Egidius Geissler, founder of the catholic mission in Cana has undertaken the task to bring to its primitive state the ancient sanctuary which rose on the site where our holy Saviour changed water into wine. For this purpose, with the help of benefactors he bought two pieces of land where ruins of a church built by St. Helen lie. The place is behind the actual chapel. After intensive research he was convinced that at that place there should have been the apse of this ancient edifice and the excavations carried out confirmed the exactness of his idea. He found not only the place of the miracle, where he found stone jars and a silo for grain, but also a certain number of pecious archaeological remains: the base of a big column, the capitel of a column and the tomb of Tanchum, a famous jew converted to the christian faith. From the results of the excavations we can conclude that the ancient basilica had three apses, in conformity with the plan of the basilica of Nazareth and of Mount Tabor."

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Created/updated: Thursday, December 6, 2001 by John Abela ofm
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