Mount Berenice: Mysterious Anchor Church
Mount Berenice is a jagged cliff towering 700 feet above ancient Tiberias. It is named after Berenice, a Jewish Queen in the first century who almost became a Roman empress. Archaeologically, the site bears remarkable church remains from the Byzantine and Crusader periods, commemorating a sacred stone anchor.
History and Archeology of Mount Berenice
Set above Roman-era Tiberias, scholars argued that Mount Berenice was the ancient city’s citadel or palace, as its Arabic name was “Qasr Bint el-Malek” (=Fort of the Princess). However, archaeological excavations at the site uncovered remains of a grand church from the Byzantine and Crusader periods on an eastern spur of the mountain. Measuring 160 by 90 feet, the church commemorated a big stone anchor found in its apse. Weighing over 1000 pounds, the 3.5-toot-long perforated stone was probably attributed to Jesus or his disciples and revered by the local community. Alternatively, perhaps it symbolized Christian faith (“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19). The state of Israel named the mountain after Queen Berenice. However, historically nor archaeologically, she does not seem to relate to the site in any way.
Berenice – the Jewish Queen who almost became empress
Berenice was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I and the younger sister of Herod Agrippa II. At a young age, she married and widowed three times. Later, she co-reigned with her brother, and some historians suggest she committed incest with him. In 59/60 CE, Herod Agrippa II and Berenice heard Paul’s plea in Caesarea (Acts 25-26). Later, when Vespasian and Titus led the military operation to suppress the great Jewish revolt (66-70 CE), they supported them. After conquering and destroying Jerusalem, Titus invited Berenice to Rome, but when he was proclaimed emperor, the senate pressured him not to appoint the Jewish queen as empress. Berenice returned to Judaea, and her whereabouts later are unknown.
Touring Mount Berenice
A narrow and steep 1-mile-long dirt road leads to the top of Mount Berenice from Tiberias. If ascending by car, it should be done cautiously as the road is not maintained well. The site itself is open to all, free of charge. Besides the remains of the magnificent Byzantine church, the eastern edge of the summit offers spectacular views of the Sea of Galilee and its surroundings.
A tour to Mount Berenice can be combined with a guided day tour of the Galilee.