|An aerial picture of the synagogue. Photograph: Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.|
September 11, 2009. Magdala (Galilee), Israel. The Legion’s planned Magdala Center is located on a piece of land that
has just revealed a rare archaeological treasure: one of the
oldest synagogues in the world, with traces of frescos and
decorations dating from the time of Christ and the apostles.
synagogue was discovered during excavations on the land of the
future Magdala Center, whose cornerstone Pope Benedict XVI blessed
this past May 11 during his visit to the Holy
An exciting and unique find
The excavations, directed by archaeologists
Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority,
unearthed two significant findings: a synagogue from the Second Temple
period (50 BC-100 AD), and in the middle of the
synagogue, a stone engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the
likes of which have never been seen before.
hall of the synagogue is c. 120 square meters (c.
1300 square feet) in area and its stone benches, which
served as seats for the worshippers, were built up against
the walls of the hall. Its floor was made of
mosaic and its walls were treated with colored plaster (frescos).
A square stone, the top and four sides of which
are adorned with reliefs, was discovered in the hall. The
stone is engraved with a seven-branched menorah set atop a
pedestal with a triangular base, which is flanked on either
side by amphora (jars).
Excavation director, Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the Israel
Antiquities Authority, said that this synagogue is one of only
seven in the world dating from the Second Temple Period.
Most likely, it was destroyed during the period of the
Jewish revolt against the Romans in the years 66 and
|Picture of the decorated stone. Photographic credit: Moshe Hartal, Israel Antiquities Authority.|
She also noted that the discovery of the menorah
decoration is the first of its kind.
“We are dealing
with an exciting and unique find,” she said. “This is
the first time that a menorah decoration has been discovered
from the days when the Second Temple was still standing.
This is the first menorah to be discovered in a
Jewish context and that dates to the Second Temple period/beginning
of the Early Roman period. We can assume that the
engraving that appears on the stone, which the Israel Antiquities
Authority uncovered, was done by an artist who saw the
seven-branched menorah with his own eyes in the Temple in
The archaeological discovery is of great interest for the
Jewish world. Mr Shuka Dorfmann, director of the Israel Antiquities
Authority, has visited the site twice, declaring the find to
be an extraordinary discovery that must be studied in depth.
Many Israeli and Christian archeologists have come to visit the
The Israeli authorities have also asked for the
excavation to continue, and for the findings to be preserved
on site and incorporated into the planned Magdala Center.
Solana, LC, director of the Pontifical Notre Dame of
Jerusalem Center and initiator of the Magdala Project, said that the
new archaeological findings will be an integral part of the
“I knew that Magdala was a holy place
and I always had the sense that it would be
a special place for the pilgrims from different religions. But
these new findings certainly surpass our expectation. In a moment
of prayer in this place, I thought that the last
time the faithful gathered in this place, around 70 AD,
most of them had been witnesses of the life of
our Lord,” he said.
“I’m dreaming of the day when this
place opens for pilgrims to visit, and I hope it
will serve to build bridges of dialogue and ties of
true love between the believers of different religions in the
Holy Land,” said Fr Solana, LC.
A place rich in history
synagogue is located in Migdal (Magdala), which is mentioned in
Jewish sources. Migdal played an important role during the Great
Revolt and was actually the main base of Yosef Ben
Matityahu (Josephus Flavius), commander of the rebellion in the Galilee.
After it was conquered by the Romans, the city was
destroyed and many of its residents were killed. At the
end of the Second Temple period Migdal was an administrative
center of the western basin of the Sea of Galilee.
Until the founding of Tiberias in the year 19 AD,
Migdal was the main settlement along the shore of the
Sea of Galilee.
For Christians, Magdala is also an important place
of connection to the life and ministry of Jesus. It
is located about 5 miles from Capernaum, where Jesus spent
much of his public ministry, so it is most likely
that many of the local inhabitants were witnesses to Jesus’
preaching and miracles. And of course, ‘Magdala’ is mentioned in
the Gospels as Mary Magdalene’s hometown.
It can also be
said that Galilean towns like Magdala were the birthplace of
communities of Christians; up to the year of the destruction
of the temple in Jerusalem, Christians often shared synagogues with
the followers of Judaism. Only after the destruction of the
temple in 70 AD was there a more clear separation
between Jews and Christians, leading the Christians to create their
|The Magdala Center will be a place of prayer and pilgrimage.|
own places for gathering and worship.
About the Magdala Project
Project was born when the Legionaries of Christ arrived to
Israel in 2004, after Pope John Paul II asked them
to take charge of the Pontifical Notre Dame of Jerusalem
The idea of the Magdala Project was to offer
pilgrims an additional place of prayer and hospitality in Galilee,
to complement the services of the Notre Dame Center in
Thanks to the support of thousands of Christians and followers
of other faiths from all over the world, the Magdala
Project has been steadily unfolding. On July 2, Israeli authorities
granted the first building permits, with the required archaeological excavations
as the first step toward preparing the way for future
The future Magdala Center, for whose construction and management
the Ark New Gate Company was founded, has the following
1. To provide a hotel to welcome pilgrims who
visit the Holy Land.
2. To preserve and display the ruins
of that holy place – a purpose now reinforced by
the discovery of a synagogue from the times of Jesus.
3. To offer a multimedia center to show the message and
life of Jesus, and the history of the place.
4. With the inspiration of Mary Magdalene, to offer a center
promoting the vocation and dignity of woman.
The project continues onward,
with full respect for the norms established by the authorities,
and these important ruins will be part of the completed
The Center was planned to open on December
12, 2011. However, it is possible that the recent discoveries
may push back the opening date.
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