The Church of the Transfiguration in Mt. Tabor


The entrance of the Legacy Hotel in Nazareth where we stayed for 4 days and 3 nights.

We arrived at the Legacy Hotel in Nazareth from the Ben Gurion Tel Aviv International Airport around 7pm.  Early the next morning, we started our first day of our pilgrimage as we journeyed to The Church of the Transfiguration in Mt. Tabor.

Webster describes a “transfiguration” as a transformation or to matemorphose into another form.  Metamorphe, also according to Webster, means to change the outside to match the reality of the inside.

Indeed, the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9: 2-8 and Luke 9:28-36) give a full account of the transformation of Jesus from his human form to the glory of his true divine nature.  All three described the Transfiguration with Jesus flanked on both sides by Elijah and Moses with the voice of God announcing “This is my Son, whom I love…”  According to all three gospels, Peter and brothers James and John witnessed this miracle.

In the olden times, it has been said that in order for an event, or a charge or an evidence to hold some truth, there has to be at least 2 to 3 witnesses to testify for its veracity.  With this rule in mind, there are many incidences in the bible that will name 3 witnesses, most specially during Jesus’ miracles.  In the case of Jesus’ Transfiguration, Matthew, Mark and Luke mentioned Peter, James and John as witnesses.  These gospels also stated Jesus’ 3 heavenly witnesses – Moses, Elijah and God himself.

“His face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as the light.  And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him.” (Matthew 17:2-3)

One of the lookout points in Mt. Tabor

Mt. Tabor sits at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley about 9 kilometers east of Nazareth.  It was believed that the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ happened here.  Altho there are conflicts as to whether the miracle happened in Mt. Tabor or the other higher mountain, Mt. Hermon.  Comparatively, Mt Tabor is only about 1,843 feet high.  In comparison, Mt. Hermon is 9,230 feet at its highest point.   Moreover, in the gospel, it was said that Jesus and his disciples journeyed north from Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee to the city of Ceasarea Phillipi.  Ceasarea Philippi actually lays at the southern base of Mt. Hermon.  Thus, some scholars say that Mt. Hermon was the more logical place where the Transfiguration happened.

But whether it happened at Mt. Hernon or Mt. Tabor, the more important thing was the miracle of the Transfiguraiton itself. In all actuality, it happened and the significance of the miracle is what matters more.

But I digress.  To reach the summit of Mt. Tabor, the bus went on a winding road with hairpin bends.  This road leads to the top of the mountain where the Franciscan monastery is on the south-west side and the Greek church and the Flavius ruins on the other sides.

We headed towards the entrance of the church’s courtyard.

The Monastery’s gate, which is also known as the “gate of the wind”, is based on the original crusader gate and was restored in 1897.  A narrow road lined with cypress trees leads from the gate to an inner gate.  Ruins also lined the road.  These ruins were part of the forts  during the Crusader years

The Gate of the Wind that guards the entrance of the monastery.

 

The sign by the entrance of the courtyard. Notice the “rules” of how to conduct one’s self while inside the premises.

 

The clock tower of the courtyard with the Franciscan Jerusalem Cross Flag waving.  

 

Entering the front courtyard of the Church of the Transfiguration

The gates open up to a large courtyard. Within the confines of the courtyard are the basilica, the monastery and offices. The Church of the Transfiguation, as it is today, is a relatively new church.  It was built by the Franciscans in 1924 at the east side and built over the ruins of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches.  The church was designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi.

The church with the beautiful limestone facade influenced greatly by the 4th to 6th century Syrian architecture.

The facade of the church is not just romantic but also majestic.  Truly, one would feel a sense of so much history just feasting your eyes on the towers and the door with an open foryer.

The magnificent towers of the church.

 

This steel flooring greets the visitors when one passes thru the main door. Notice the letters/petitions that are underneath dropped there by the pilgrims and tourists.

In addition, the alabaster panels on the roof was meant to bring in as much light as possible.  The abundance of light inside the church was meant to bring more significance to that miraculous event celebrated by the church.  Unfortunately, because alabaster could not be watertight, the roof had to be covered by a non-translucent material.

Despite that architectural limitation, the inside of the church still emanates a luminous glow.  As can be seen, the high ceilings and expansive space surrounding the church pews gives the church an ethereal mood.

Led by an aisle flanked by wide-spanned arches, the main altar is located high above the ground.  Upon closer look, the golden mosaic painting in the ceiling above the altar shows the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ.  In detail, the painting shows Jesus floating in the clouds flanked by two clouds sitting Elijah and Moses.  In addition, the painting also shows Peter, James and John standing below.

According to folklore, every August 6, the day of the Transfiguration, the sun strikes a glass plate set into the floor.  Consequently, the reflection of the sun briefly illuminates the golden mosaic.

The high-ceilinged interior with tall arches leading to the central altar.  There are two more altars on the wings. 

The main sanctuary, also known as “The Grotto of Christ” lies underneath the top altar. This portion of the church is on the level of the old Byzantine church.  The stained glass background of the altar shows 2 peacocks – the symbol of mortality granted to the followers of Jesus. This is because, according to legends, a peacock’s flesh does not decay.  Consequently, the eternal life of a christian soul is thru believing in Christ and following His path.

Also on the main sanctuary’s ceiling is a mosaic of the different phases of Jesus’ life – from infancy to the resurrection.

I’ve seen photos of people going down to the main sanctuary.  It was unfortunate that we couldn’t get closer to the altar due to the cords guarding it.

The main altar above with a mosaic painting of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Moses and Elijah on two sides, with Peter, John and James witnessing.

 

A closer look of the Transfiguration altar showing the dramatic mosaic painting in the dome

 

The lower altar chamber with the stained glass peacocks symbolizing eternal life and Jesus’ life stages on the mosaic ceiling.

Similarly, two smaller altars or “tabernacles” are on each of the altar’s sides.

Generally, the church is open from 8am to 11am and 2pm to 5pm daily.  The church does not charge any entrance fees to get in.

Another view from the peak of Mt. Tabor
Our Holy Land pilgrimage was made smooth and possible by L.P. Pilgrimage.  To know more of their upcoming and ongoing pilgrimages, please click on the link of their website, their facebook page, thru the following contact information:
USA
410-897-2538 (Cell)
USA – Georgia Office
Latin Patriarchate Pilgrimages
P.O. Box 2015
Lawrenceville, GA. 30046
Rome
Via Nemorense, 8600199 Roma
​Vatican Office and Info Point Terminal Gianicolo 5th Floor
Cell: +39 342 8701187
Nazareth
Paulus 6th Street 82
P.O.Box 50009
Nazareth 1616001
Tel: +972 4 3740055
Fax: +972 4 6019185
Whatsapp / Viber
+972 544439501

Till next time, my lovies! Do come with me as we visit the shrine of the miracle of the wedding at Cana!


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