Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.
We got an early start this morning, boarding the bus and heading north through Tiberias to the upper part of the lake. Climbing a twisting road up the hillside, we arrived at the Franciscan Church of the Beatitudes. Though no one knows exactly where Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, this tranquil setting is a great spot to commemorate His teaching. The acoustically resonant Cove of the Sower is right below, and from the hillside there is a clear view of all the ruins of the most important local towns — from Bethsaida (home of Peter, Andrew and Philip) to Magdala/Migdol (home of Mary Magdalene). And the beautifully landscaped grounds create a spiritual atmosphere that naturally leads to prayer and reflection.
The main church building was designed by architect Antonio Barluzzi (who also did the Church at Shepherd’s Field, which we saw earlier) and built in 1938 with the financial help of Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. The structure incorporates the local stone — black Galilean basalt — and its octagonal shape represents the eight beatitudes. The cloistered porches surrounding the structure allow for magnificent views of the grounds and the Sea of Galilee below.
Even the mosaics beneath our feet helped us to focus on the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. The woman in the lower left circle is Mary Magdalene. (Magdala or Migdol means “tower,” and scholars believe there was an ancient lighthouse on the nearby shore.)
The surrounding walls contain stained glass windows with each of the beatitudes written in Latin, and the floor includes mosaics with symbols of the seven traditional virtues of justice, charity, prudence, faith, fortitude, hope and temperance.
For me, one of the best experiences on our entire trip was the time we spent inside the church. Strict silence usually must be maintained, and that has a deep spiritual significance that I have always found quite moving. But since our guide, Foteh, was acquainted with the nun guarding the entrance, we were given permission to have a short time of devotion and singing. Barluzzi is noted for the acoustics in his buildings, and this one was no exception. As we lifted our voices in the song “Seek Ye First,” many in our group began to cry, and so did some of the other tourists around us. It was truly a glimpse of heaven!
Click here for additional group pictures of the Mount of Beatitudes