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Mount Tabor

2012/08/02

Mount Tabor

Rising to 588 meters above sea level, Mt. Tabor stands alone in the plain of Esdraelon, in lower Galilee, a few miles from Nazareth.

Considered a sacred mountain since ancient times, Tabor was a place of Canaanite worship before entering fully into the history of the chosen people, through the most ancient stories of the Bible.



Recalled by the Psalmist to illustrate the magnificence of God in creation, Tabor was a boundary marker for the Israelite tribes in the north, and famous for the victories of Deborah and Barak against Sisera, narrated in the book of Judges.

Important though they are for the history of salvation, these events all but disappear when compared with the extraordinary episode narrated in the Gospels:

“Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain and was transfigured in front of them ...”

Even though the gospel does not name the mountain where the great event of the Transfiguration occurred, an ancient tradition dating back to Origen, in third century, identifies Mt. Tabor as the place where Jesus was transfigured in the sight of the three astonished disciples.

And on the spot where Peter, full of enthusiasm, had said to the Lord: “... it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”, the Christians had soon built three chapels.

Destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries, all are now incorporated in this Basilica designed by the architect Barluzzi and built by the Franciscans in 1924. The two bell towers at the side of the façade look down upon the area of the two Byzantine chapels dedicated to Moses and Elijah.

Inside the Basilica there are three naves, separated by massive pillars and sturdy arches. A wide staircase descends into the crypt, which is built on the site of the third Byzantine chapel and the crypt of the previous Crusader Church. Its altar is made of Crusader remains.

The scene of the Transfiguration is depicted in the large mosaic over the main apse.

The Wind Gate, which still marks the entrance to the plateau at the summit of Tabor, used to be the only entrance to the mighty Saracen castle built in the thirteenth century. After the defeat of the Latin Kingdom, Christians had to keep away from the mountain for a long periods. The destruction ordered by Sultan Baybars in 1263 turned the top of Mt. Tabor into a pile of rubble for nearly four centuries. Very few were pilgrims who braved the ascent. After paying a toll, the Franciscans of Nazareth and Jerusalem went up there from time to time to perform the liturgy.

On the road leading to the Basilica, there is a chapel called “Descendetibus”, which was built in memory of Jesus asking his disciples to tell no one about this vision, while they made their way down the mountain.

In front of the sanctuary are the ruins of the Benedictine monastery of the Crusader period, unearthed in the late nineteenth century.

With history’s vicissitudes behind them, the Franciscans finally came into possession of the summit in 1631, as a gift from the Emir Fakhr ed Din. Now, in addition to their Monastery, there is a hostel and a resting place for pilgrims, managed by the “Mondo X” Community, since 2006.

One of the pilgrims at Mt. Tabor, in 1964, was Pope Paul VI, whose death in 1978 occurred precisely on 6th August.


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