Magdala, Hometown of Mary Magdalene
Magdala was a prosperous fishing village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and Tiberias. The site was conquered and destroyed in 67 CE by the Romans and was scarcely settled in the following periods. Today it is an archaeological park and a Catholic center.
History of Magdala
Magdala developed as a fishing village and a center for fish trade as it was on the crossroads next to the Sea of Galilee. Historical sources indicate it was especially known for its salted fish. By Christian tradition it is also the home of Mary Magdalene.
Magdala and Christianity
Magdala is not mentioned by name in the New Testament, but the most devout female follower of Jesus was “Mary Magdalene”, which most likely means – “Mary form Magdala”. It is also quite likely that Jesus visited Magdala and preached in it, as he did in the synagogues of many villages in towns in the Galilee (Mark 1:38-39). In the Byzantine period a church was said to be built over the “House of Mary Magdalene”. Possible remains of this church were discovered in the 1970s but to this day they are not open to the public. In the early 21st century Magdala was much developed by the Catholic church to a spiritual center, mostly in honor of women.
Magdala was stormed by the Romans in 67 CE and totally destroyed by them. Most of its Jewish population was killed or sold to slavery. The site was periodically settled in the following period, and its 1st century remains were eventually all covered by debris. In the 1970s the Franciscans began excavating at the site. Excavations were resumed in 2009 when a large-scale Catholic project began at the site. The most famous discovery made so far is a rare 1st century synagogue with a uniquely decorated large slab of limestone.
- See a video presenting Magdala, by ‘ Danny the Digger’, here.
Magdala today is a popular tourist attraction. The wealth of archaeological finds attests to the prosperity of the village in the time of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Most exciting is the discovery of a 1st century synagogue. A big decorated stone in its center still puzzles scholars, as no satisfying explanation has been provided to its enigmatic decorations. Next to the synagogue traces of the local market were found. On the opposite side of the site wealthy residential area was uncovered, including mosaic floors and private ritual baths (Miqva’ot).
In 2018 a modern church was designed at the eastern side of the site, next to the sea of Galilee. Its interior, merging with the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee by an infinity pool, is stunningly beautiful. Called “Duc in Altum”, the church combines well various Christian symbols and local archaeological finds. In 2020 a new hotel was opened on the grounds of the site as well. Called “Magdala hotel” this high-level welcoming accommodating facility sets a new benchmark for hospitality around the Sea of Galilee, especially for Christian Pilgrim Groups.
A tour of Magdala can be combined in a guided tour of the North.
Bar-Mitzvah In Magdala’s Ancient Synagogue
Despite the Catholic character of Magdala today, the ancient synagogue in Magdala is actually a very unusual and original place to conduct a Bar or Bat-Mitzvah ceremony. Reading from the Torah inside the 2,000 years old synagogue is a very special and spiritual experience, connecting the celebrating family to the some of the oldest roots of Judaism. And being a site that welcomes people of all faiths and denominations, Magdala is possibly the best choice for a Bar-Mitzvah celebration by mixed Jewish and Christian families. The ceremony can be followed by and event in the hotel and can be combined with a private sail on the Sea of Galilee.