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14. Mountain of the Beatitudes

The Mountain of the Beatitudes got its name from the event documented in Matthew 5: “Now when he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…’”

Verses 3 to 11 begin with the words “Blessed are…”, hence the name Beatitudes, which mean in Latin “blessings” (cf. Luke 6).

The Church of the Beatitudes

Far up the hill at the north end of the Lake of Galilee is “The Church of the Beatitudes,” which commemorates the beatitudes (blessings) promised by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. Photo © Archaeological Diggings

The Mountain of Beatitudes is perhaps also the place where Jesus chose his twelve disciples. “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them…” (Luke 6:12-16). The exact location of the mountain is not mentioned in the Gospels, and in fact according to Luke the event did not take place on a mountain, but rather on “on a level place” (Luke 6:17). The best known site as “Mountain of the Beatitudes” was declared and built by the Franciscan sisters in 1939 on a hill above Capernaum, on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. The noted architect, Antonio Berluzzi, designed a beautiful octagonal shrine to commemorate the eight beatitudes and a hospice next to it.

In the year 2000, on the western part of the mountain, John Paul II gave a mass to a crowd of about 100,000 Catholics. This event proved that the site could indeed accommodate large crowds, but as noted above, this identification is a modern one. In the 18th century, for instance, some pilgrims identified the site at the cliff ofArbel, on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee. Others argue the site should be identified at “Horns of Hattin”, a hill west of Tiberias.

There is no certainty where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount but from the church there is a superb view of the usually placid Lake of Galilee and the hills of Golan heights on the east side of the lake.

There is no certainty where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount but from the church there is a superb view of the usually placid Lake of Galilee and the hills of Golan heights on the east side of the lake. © Archaeological Diggings

Mount of the Beatitudes in the Byzantine Period.

The 4th century pilgrim Aetheria (or Egeria) stated that near the site of the miraculous multiplication of fish and bread is a cave to which Jesus went up when he spoke about the Beatitudes. The site of the multiplications of fish and bread has been identified at Tabgha, a site 2.5 km west of Capernaum. Above Tabgha, on a small hill above the main road, is a site that was excavated in 1935 by the Franciscan B. Bagatti. He uncovered at the site ruins of a monastic complex from the Byzantine period, and most importantly, underneath one of the chapels he revealed a natural cave (4.5 x 3.5 x 2.2 m) which opened to the south. This could well be the cave mentioned by Aetheria. If so, this is probably the “Mount of the Beatitudes” site in antiquity, but today it is neglected and I have never seen anyone (aside from myself, once) visiting the site.