The Church of the Twelve Apostles
Exploring the Church of the Twelve Apostles
Location - Galilee North Shore
Map Coordinates - 32.881459, 35.577186
There are actually two sites that commemorate the events of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum. The most famous is the Catholic site, with its synagogue and home of Simon Peter. The other church is owned by the Greek Orthodox community, and the pink-domed Church of the Twelve Apostles dominates its property. This church is more often photographed than visited.
Capernaum suffered a devastating earthquake in 749 AD, and many residents of this town relocated to other areas. Capernaum had therefore been in ruins for many centuries when this site was purchased by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the present church was erected.
The Church of the Twelve Apostles is believed to stand on the site of an earlier Byzantine church dedicated to the Apostle John.
The current church was built in 1931 AD, but between 1948 and 1969 AD this church was controlled by the country of Jordan, and hence it was in an area called “no man’s land”. Local Christians or pilgrims had no access to this no-man’s land, so the church fell into decay, and local residents used it as a barn. After the Six Day War in 1969, when Israel recaptured this land, restoration of the church began with the removal of a thick layer of cow manure covering the floor.
Outside the Church.
The ancient town of Capernaum was much larger than what can be seen at the Franciscan site. Archeological excavations carried out at four locations in this Orthodox section between 1978-82 AD revealed the foundations of residential dwellings with the same black basalt dry-stone walling as in the Franciscan reconstructions of Capernaum.
The ruins of these homes can be seen right up to the Church of the Twelve Apostles.
Peacocks typically roam the grounds just outside the church.
The Layout of the Church.
Even though this is a small church, it follows the typical footprint as almost every other eastern Orthodox church, with a nave (central prayer room), an iconostasis (icon wall), and a sanctuary and high altar behind the wall.
There are no pews in this church, because the Orthodox have always believed that it is more proper to stand during worship, giving honor to God. However, in typical Orthodox fashion, chairs around the sides have been provided for the aged or infirmed.
Between 1995 and 2000 AD the church was redecorated by a Greek iconographer with an eclectic array of Byzantine-style frescoes inspired by works in Orthodox churches and monasteries in various parts of the world. Every wall of the interior is colorfully illustrated with frescos, depicting Biblical scenes. They depict, among other things, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Madonna and Child, saints who lived in the Holy Land, Galilean scenes from the Gospels, Jesus walking on the water, the calming of the storm, the miraculous catch of fish and the healing of the paralyzed man.
The Final Judgment Fresco.
The most striking fresco, a dramatic portrayal of Judgment Day, covers the back wall of the church as a reminder to the departing faithful that they will be judged in eternity based on their love and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This fresco conveys the contrast and tension between the glory of those who are saved (on the left side of the fresco) and the horror of those who are damned (on the right). The two groups are separated by a river of fire leading down to hell.
In keeping with the tradition of virtually every Orthodox church in the world, a painting of Christ the Pantocrator (translated as Christ Almighty) can be seen in the dome of this Church. This painting is a copy of the world’s first oil painting ever produced of Christ, which is in the possession of the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula. The image of Jesus is surrounded by twelve Old Testament prophets who foretold His coming.
In the other dome, Christ is shown as an old man under the title of the Ancient of Days, a name for God from the books of Isaiah (43:13) of Daniel (7:9), surrounded by twelve Old Testament patriarchs.