What I Saw In The Holy Land, 8
These are the ruins of Jesus' adopted home-town, Capernaum. This weird-looking Church was built in the '90s, but it's not such a monstrosity when you're inside it. Like most churches built right over holy sites, it's octagonal in shape, to accomodate the treasured place beneath. This church has the tabernacle dead center, and the building is elevated, with a glass bottom in the center so that you can look straight down to the ruins of Peter's house. (Did I mention already the local joke about Peter betraying Christ because Christ healed his mother-in-law? Maybe I did. Sorry.)

The above photo is taken from the ruins of the local synagogue, below, where Christ first proclaimed the Good News ("this day, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing"). The ruins are of a 4th c. synagogue, but the Franciscans believe the layer of black basalt rocks at the base of the ruins is from the synagogue Christ actually preached in. Excavations here have given archaeologists a great sense of the daily life of people in Christ's time (see this excellent site on the research) because since Capernaum was never rebuilt as a place people live once it was destroyed, the site was "pure." For the same reason, this is one of the most satisfying places to visit if you want to be able to picture what the towns in Christ's time looked like. These are the first houses we saw that were completely constructed rather than being hewn from pre-existent caves. The most interesting discovery for me was how close people built their houses to the synagogue in these towns. You certainly understand after visiting how natural it was for Christ to stop at Peter's house after preaching --it was about a city block away-- and why the crowds in these towns all knew where Jesus was. These houses also give you a completely different mental picture of the incident from last Sunday's gospel in which the friends lower the paraplegic through the roof of the house (which may even have been Peter's house). I always pictured the pallet being lowered from a dangerous height, but in fact the paralytic man wouldn't have had far to go to reach Jesus, as the typical thatch roof wouldn't have been that much higher than a man's head.
Behind and around the synagogue are additional ruins and some graves --among which were cavorting some absolutely enormous rodents. Our guide said they were marmots, and maybe he was right, but they looked larger and less friendly than the marmot pictures I found on the web. These were like giant rats, but without the thin spiky tails. There is a creature in Israel called a fat sand rat, but I couldn't find a picture that would show me if that's what we saw. (They're going down in my journal as ROUSes of course.) Photos courtesy of Holy Land Photos.