Step back to the time of Jesus at the Magdala Center

Ecotourism, yes. Spirit-tourism? Yes, that too.

This idea is behind the Magdala Center on the shore of the Sea of ​​Galilee. It is a place where tourists can stay in the brand new Hotel Magdalaswim in the pool, stroll through the beautiful gardens and have a meaningful spiritual experience.

The hotel is located next to one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last 50 years, the Stone of Magdala.

In 2009, when workers began digging the foundations of the hotel near Migdal Junction, near Tiberias, they discovered the ruins of a synagogue dating back to the first century. It is the oldest synagogue discovered in the Galilee and one of seven first-century synagogues discovered in Israel.

Archaeologists have discovered colorful frescoes and mosaics as well as stone seats and columns.

Magdala Synagogue fresco. Photo courtesy of Hotel Magdala

After digging further into a small room next to the synagogue, they found the Magdala Stone.

Carvings in the stone include a seven-branched menorah similar to that in the temple in Jerusalem, oil or wine jugs, a chariot, and a six-petalled rose window above the stone.

The Magdala Stone where it was discovered. Photo by David Delgado

Completely accidental? People at the Magdala Center call it paradise.

When Reverend Juan María Solana, the papal appointee in charge of Our Lady of Jerusalem Center, a pilgrimage guesthouse, decided to build a retreat center in the Galilee, he envisioned a place where tourists and pilgrims could enjoy comfortable accommodation in a spiritual atmosphere. .

Hotel Magdala at night. Photo courtesy of Magdala Tourism Center

Little did he know that his initial concept of spiri-tourism would trigger an archaeological discovery a few layers underground.

“I think the fact that Solana wanted to build the Magdala Center here before the discovery is providential,” said David Delgado, director of marketing and development for the center.

“The discovery of the ruins allows the project to gain much more value in a historical, cultural and spiritual sense.”

A fish pond restored from the old village in the center of the Magdala Hotel lobby. Photo courtesy of Magdala Tourism Center

Dating from Alexander the Great

During a tour of the archaeological site, Magdala Center guide Father Eamon Kelly painted a portrait of life in the ancient city of Magdala.

Scholars believe the seaside town was established in Hellenistic times, from 332 BCE, when Alexander the Great conquered the country. It became a prosperous city.

Reverend Eamon Kelly in the lobby of the Magdala Hotel, addressing a group of pilgrims near the Magdala Stone. Photo by Diana Bletter

“You can imagine the traders, the fishermen and the townspeople,” Kelly said.

The archaeological park contains the ruins of a large market with over 20 halls where produce, freshly caught fish, pottery and woven items were sold.

Although archaeologists have so far only discovered 10% of Magdala, they have also discovered mikvaot (Jewish ritual baths) fed by underground springs which continue to operate today.

An ancient mikveh (ritual bath) in Magdala. Photo by Felipe Arcila

There is also a group of houses arranged in a grid, as by a modern town planner, and a working area of ​​fishermen, where hooks and weights for fishing nets were found.

At the edge of the sea, there is a quay with a mooring stone that indicates the sea level centuries ago.

Aerial view of the remains of a first-century synagogue in Magdala. Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Magdala was located on a major trade route, the Via Maris.

Since the site is called the “crossroads of Jewish and Christian history,” Kelly also reflected, “Who else could have walked along the road? »

Heal prejudices

Some scholars believe it was the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, a Jewish woman sometimes referred to as Mary of Magdala. According to the Christian gospels, she traveled with Jesus as one of his disciples.

Other scholars believe that “Magdalene” could have been an honorific stemming from Hebrew and Aramaic words meaning “tower” or “magnified”.

The objective of the Magdala Center is to simulate a Galilean experience from the first century to the 21st century.

Magdala Hotel aims to provide guests with a first-century Galilean experience. Photo courtesy of Hotel Magdala

For Christian pilgrims, this is an authentic walking spot where Jesus could have visited and taught, connecting visitors to the life of Jesus and his disciples.

The Magdala Center founders hope the site will build positive relationships with diverse Christian believers and help foster reconciliation between Christians and Jews, providing what Pope Francis calls “the culture of encounter.”

“It’s a challenge living in the real world,” Kelly said. “We are trying to heal prejudice.”

The archaeological site attracts visitors from all over the world and the hotel staff includes Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze. Kelly recently hosted a group of Franciscan monks from abroad.

deeper meaning

The impressive chapel on the central plot is called Duc in Altum, Latin for “dipped in the depths”.

Kelly explained that these are “the words Jesus spoke to Peter, urging him to go into deep water.” It is also a call for people to seek deeper meaning in their lives.

The Duc in Altum chapel in Magdala, with its boat overlooking the old port. Photo courtesy of Hotel Magdala

The chapel broadcasts live broadcasts of Christian services.

Its atrium is dedicated to women, with seven pillars representing women who followed Jesus and an eighth pillar to honor “women of all faiths”.

There’s a large boat in a wide arched window overlooking a first-century harbor to replicate where Jesus preached, Kelly said.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people have had incredible spiritual experiences here,” Kelly said. “It’s life changing.”

Click here for more information on visiting the Magdala Center and the hotel.

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