Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.
After lunch we rode around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and headed even further north to the foot of Mount Hermon where we stopped at the beautiful Hermon Stream or Banias Nature Preserve.
A flowing spring, one of the sources of the Jordan River, is found at the base of a cliff and it served as the water source for local residents. After Alexander the Great conquered the area, the Greeks founded a new city south of the springs that they called Panias (Banias in Arabic) after the god Pan, the goat-legged deity that ruled over the flocks, hunting and wild natural areas. A grotto in the hillside marks the spot where Pan was worshiped by the sacrifice of goats, and niches carved into the rocks are thought to have held statues of other Greco-Roman gods and goddesses.
When Herod the Great was granted oversight of the area he built a temple to his patron, the Emperor Caesar Augustus. Remains from that period also litter the site.
When Herod’s son Herod Philip inherited Banias at his father’s death, he built his capital city there and named it after himself and his patron emperor Tiberius — Caesarea Philippi. Its remains lie across the parking lot from the nature preserve, and they contain excavations from the Roman and Byzantine periods. The ruins of a Byzantine church commemorate the site where Jesus healed a woman with uncontrollable bleeding.
The city was significant during the Arab, Crusader and Medieval periods, and then declined to a small village under Turkish rule.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that this is also the area where Jesus took his disciples to ask them some very important questions: “who do people say that I am?” and “who do you say that I am?” What better spot to do that than a place where people worshiped and honored just about everything and everyone besides the true and living God! The Grotto of Pan was also thought to lead to the “gates of hell” or the “gates of hades.” So Jesus had a wonderful “show and tell” example when he told his followers that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church. And while Banias is now just a mass of stones and rubble, the Church of Jesus Christ is still alive!
Banias/Caesarea Philippi is one of my favorite stops on the pilgrimage. Not many visitors come here, and the late afternoon is a peaceful time to sit and reflect on Jesus’ important questions about His identity. When so much of our culture tempts us to “idol worship” of some kind, it’s good to be reminded that Jesus is our one true Lord and that nothing the world throws at us can overcome our faith.
And speaking of cultural temptation … after dinner that evening a group of us went to one of Tiberias’ diamond centers. Israel is a leader in the cut diamond industry worldwide, so the prices are purported to be very good. It was way too rich for my blood, but some of our pilgrims’ loved ones were going to get really nice gifts back home.
Click here for more pictures of Banias, Caesarea Philippi and the Diamond Center.