The Church of the Transfiguration (Catholic)
Jesus Revealed His Glory on This Mountain
Location - Mount Tabor
Map Coordinates - 32.686255, 35.392755
Merged Gospels story - 117
While some people believe that the transfiguration took place on another mountain, such as Mount Hermon in northern Israel, every historical document that we have tells us that this miracle took place on Mount Tabor in the Jezreel Valley. There have been multiple churches on this site confirming this tradition.
Currently on the mountaintop there are two Christian monasteries, one controlled by the Greek Orthodox Church, and one run by the Roman Catholic Church. Both of these churches were built here to celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus. What is this story all about?
The Biblical Story (The Merged Gospels, story 117).
One day Jesus took His three main apostles, Peter, John and James, up a mountain to pray. These three were tired, and went to sleep. But while Jesus was praying, His face started to shine like the sun. His clothing started to glow. Suddenly, the two most important prophets from the Old Testament appeared – Moses and Elijah, and they were talking to Jesus about His death and resurrection in Jerusalem.
Upon waking up the Apostles saw Moses, Elijah, and Jesus shining in all His glory. Then a bright cloud came out of the sky, hovering over them, and all three heard the voice of God the Father, saying, “This is my beloved Son, My chosen One, Whom I love, in Whom I delight (am well pleased). Listen to Him.” (Saint Peter adds the phrase “Listen to Him” in 2 Peter 1:17).
Jesus told the disciples not to be afraid, but to keep everything a secret until He rose from the dead.
The Importance of the Story.
The transfiguration of Jesus is probably the most important event recorded during His ministry. This is because, apart from the resurrection itself, nowhere else is Jesus’ true nature so graphically revealed.
1. The voice of God proclaiming Jesus as His Son.
2. The appearance of the Old Testament’s most important prophets, Moses and Elijah.
3. The physical transformation of Jesus reveals that He is a divine being. The Apostle John, who was an eyewitness to the event, says, in John 1:14 “We have seen His glory.”
4. Finally, all four of these accounts were independently recorded within one generation after Jesus rose from the dead.
Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon?
It would make sense that if the Apostles quickly revealed the miracle of the Transfiguration, they would also indicate where it happened. Not surprisingly, first-century Christians would be curious about the location as well. Sounds logical, right?
Well, here’s what we know. It is fairly obvious on which side of the location debate history is on. The earliest identification of the Mount of Transfiguration as Tabor is by Origen in the 3rd century, where he says, "Tabor is the mountain of Galilee on which Christ was transfigured" (Commentary on Psalm 58).
Origen of Alexandria, third century
In the fourth century both Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, 2, 16) and Saint Jerome (Ep. xlvi, ad Marcel.; Ep. viii, ad Paulin.; Ep. cviii, ad Eust.) declare, categorically, that the miracle happened on Mount Tabor. During this time Christians started making pilgrimages to this mountain.
In the fifth century Saint Proculus, Patriarch of Constantinople (447 AD; Oration 8, in Transfiguration), Agathangelus (History of the Armenians, 2, 17), and Arnobius the Younger (d. 460; Commentary in Psalms. 88, 13) all say that the miracle took place on Mount Tabor.
In 553 AD, the Fifth Council of Constantinople decided that Mount Tabor should have churches built there. And by 570 AD, a Byzantine church was standing on Mount Tabor, with chapels dedicated to Moses and Elijah (Pilgrim of Piacenza). During the 8th century there was at least one more church added, and a monastery.
The Credibility of the Story.
1. Because the story is told in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, and because of the phenomenal nature of the miracle itself, it must have been immediately revealed to the church, with all three Apostles living as eye-witnesses.
2. In the Synoptics, there is not one verse among them that parallels a verse in either of the others, indicating that each of the three accounts is an independent witness.
3. Peter himself, an eyewitness, specifically testifies about the event in Second Peter 1:18, calling the location “the sacred mountain”.
The Current Church.
The view of the Jezebel Valley below Mount Tabor
After the Crusades a Muslim army destroyed all the religious buildings on Mount Tabor in 1263 AD. Then in 1919 AD the Catholic church started building the current church on the peak of Mount Tabor, and it was completed in 1924. This church is built on the ruins of the two previous churches – a Byzantine church, probably built in the fifth or sixth century, and a Crusader Church.
The foundations of the walls of the Byzantine Church can be seen under two glass panels in the crypt of this church. And there is a tradition that the rock floor of the crypt is where Jesus stood during the Transfiguration. The friars of this church live next to the church in a monastery established in 1873.
As you walk in, in the front of the church, there are two chapels, one dedicated to Moses, containing an image of him holding the tablets to stone on Mount Sinai, and one dedicated to Elijah the prophet, containing an image of him in his confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.
The domes in the apse of both the Moses and Elijah chapels
Straight ahead in the apse of the church there is a mosaic showing the miracle of the Transfiguration.
The Descentibus Chapel.
As you approach the church compound, on the right side of the road you will see this chapel, called the Descentibus Chapel. It marks the traditional spot where Jesus told his Apostles not to speak of the the Transfiguration that they just witnessed until He rises from the dead.
The Descentibus Chapel.
Why is the Transfiguration important to you?
It’s because it is the clearest proof that Jesus is a divine God/Man. In addition, the belief that Jesus is God comes from His own words, and we have many stories of His miracles. We have the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. And we have the letters of the Apostles, like Peter, Paul and John.
This story is also about the physical Jesus, where His face and clothing lit up; where the two most important prophets from the Old Testament showed up, and there’s a voice coming out of a cloud claiming to be the voice of God.