The first recorded miracle of Jesus took place in the village of Cana (John 2:11). Jesus, his mother and his disciples attended a wedding, but the wine was all gone before the celebrations concluded. To the amazement of both host and guests, Jesus made water, stored in six stone jars, into wine. Jesus performed another miracle at Cana, when he healed the son of a nobleman from the town of Capernaum (John 4:46-54). Cana was also the hometown of one of the disciples – Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew) (John 21:2).
The location of Cana is unclear. The Gospels only mention that Cana is in Galilee, and today two sites are possibly ancient Cana:
Khirbet Qana is an unoccupied tell, about 10 km north of Sepphoris. A survey of the site in 1982 recorded the foundations of houses, streets, and many cisterns, which were in use mostly in the Roman period. Yet to this day the site was not excavated enough to indicate weather ancient Cana was here or not.
The more commonly accepted site for ancient Cana is “Kafr Cana,” an Arab village 5 km east of Sepphoris, and 6 km north east of Nazareth, on the road to Tiberias. This is probably the site Jerome visited in 386 CE: “we shall see Nazareth… Not at all far off we will see Cana, where the water was turned into wine” (Letter 46,13). Similarly, the anonymous pilgrim from Piacenza (570 CE) describes how he left Sepphoris and “three miles farther we reached Cana, where the Lord was present at the wedding. And we actually reclined on the couch, where I (unworthy though I am) wrote the names of my parents. Of the water pots, two are still there.”. The Piacenzapilgrim is also the first to mention a commemorative church built at Kafr Cana. The Pilgrim Willibald in 725 CE describes it as a “large church,” but records only one stone jar. And after the visit of Epiphanius the monk (ca 750-800 AD) Kafr Cana lost its importance, as many Christian holy sites all over the Holy Land were abandoned or destroyed under Muslim rule.
In 1102, Saewolf writes about Kafr Cana: “There is nothing there except a monastery.”, and it seems the Crusaders did not restore the Holy site.
In 1654 Jean Doubdan visited Kafr Cana and found that the ancient church was surprisingly well preserved—but was in use as a mosque. Perhaps that is what led some Christian pilgrims to suggest locating Cana at a different site – Kihrbet Qana. The first to do so is Quaresmius in 1626, but even he concludes in favor of Kafr Cana.
Old Synagogue Excavations
In the 17th century the Franciscans bought a house in Kafr Cana, and in 1879 they purchased the mosque and turned it back into a church. During construction they conducted excavations and found remains of an ancient synagogue, including an Aramaic inscription which read: “Honoured be the memory of Yoseh, son of Tanhum, son of Butah, and his sons, who made this tablet. May it be a blessing for them, Amen”. Paleographically the inscription is dated to the 3rd-4th century CE.
Contemporary Jewish sources mention the Eliashib family, a priestly family who formerly served in the temple as residing in Cana.
Remains of another synagogue were found on the western hill near Cana called Karm er-Ras. Some scholars claimed that having two synagogues in such close proximity may indicate the existence of TWO Jewish communities at the village during the Roman period, and one community could have been Judeo-Christians, preserving the site of the miracle.
I am skeptical of this proposal. The remains bear no clues of a Judeo-Christian community and having more than one synagogue in a village is not unusual. The Talmud says that in nearby Sepphoris there were 24 synagogues.
The current Catholic Church in Kafr Cana is modeled in a European style, echoing a cathedral in Zalburg, the hometown of Fr. Aegidius Geissler, builder of the church and its first priest. Emphasis was placed on the symmetry of the building, to echo the symmetry in marriage.
Today the monks of the site offer a ceremony or “renewal of vows” at the church.
Recent excavations at under the apse of the church unearthed a monolithic stone basin for holding liquids. While it is tempting to try and associate the discovery with one of the pure “Six stone jars” (John 2:6) who held the water Jesus turned into wine, it doesn’t seem to be the case.
Such purity jars were especially designed for special purity uses. Remains of such jars were found in a few sites in Jerusalem, especially in the vicinity of the TempleMount. They were always made on a lathe, giving them a smooth, round shape. The stone “jar” found in Cana on the other hand was not made on a lather, and seems to be part of an olive press, not a purity vessel. Nevertheless it is presented to this day, behind glass, under the “wedding church”.
Is Cana really in Kafr Cana?
Although the name Cana is preserved to this day in the name of the Arab Village of Cana near Nazareth, some argue Cana could be in another location, Kh. Cana, a mound 13 km north of Nazareth. Reviewing itineraries of Pilgrims from the Crusaders period it seems indeed that they visited kh. Cana, not Kafr Cana. In 1998-2001 E. Edwards from University of Puget Sound excavated the site of Kh. Cana. His main discovery is a cave that he argues is related to the veneration of the wedding Canamiracle at the site. Though the cave bears certain anomalies, weather it was really related to the veneration of the wedding miracle of Cana remains unclear.
Another new candidate for Ancient Cana, is the western hill of Kafr Cana. Salvage excavations conducted at that site in 2004 exposed evidence for a 1st century Jewish village. Y. Alexander, head of the excavation, argues this site could be ancient Cana, though it is possible that this was part of ancient Cana, together with Kafr Cana itself.
Appendix: “Just for laughs” version of the Wedding miracle.. :