Shalom Shabbat (Saturday has arrived once more). I woke feeling especially exhausted and lay in bed a while feeling a bout of travel fatigue. A day of rest for everyone here in Israel, I created a plan for how I could do the same.
I began my day at the infamous Tiberias Hot Springs, a destination location for more than 2,000 years for royalty and weary international travelers. There were two heated pools teeming with minerals. After immersing myself in the first pool and floating for half an hour, I took a cold outdoor shower and then plunged into the next pool. After, I found myself in a lounge chair on a deck overlooking the Galilee. It was the perfect beginning to my day.
Heading up the coast again, I thought to stop at the small park I had found in Migdal yesterday and then head back up to the National Park at the Northern end of the Galilee. In both places, I was looking for a nice tree to lean against and to relax by the water.
As I was passing the archeological site in Migdal, I noticed it was open!
Almost as soon as I entered the site, my heart began to surge. First I read about how the land was purchased in 2006 for the purpose of building a hotel for Christian pilgrims. The entire city of ancient Migdal was discovered only after the purchase. Resting about 9 feet below the surface, excavations began in 2009 with up to 700 volunteers coming from all over the world. Palestinians worked alongside Jews alongside Europeans alongside Arabs alongside Christians. I felt inspired by the collective vision that was unearthing Migdal and giving it new life.
To the left of the entrance was an excavation of a 1st century AD synagogue – only one of four that have been discovered and the only one discovered located within the areas of Jesus’ ministry. 1st century synagogues are important to Jews since the Romans destroyed Israel in 70 AD and so all excavations dating to this time period connect Jews with the time when the land, the people and their religion were unified and whole. At the center of the Migdal synagogue was a small altar made of stone, now called The Magdalene Stone. This stone was shaped to represent to the Temple of Jerusalem.
On the side of the stone altar is a carved menorah, the oldest carving of its kind discovered to date. On top of the stone was a six pointed flower. Mary Magdalene has been depicted as a six pointed flower. I did inquire about the symbolism and was told that the six pointed flower in Judaism represents a veil, a veil that separates the people from the holy of holies. Still, I thought, the first time I saw the six-pointed flower in Israel was here in Migdal.
Next to the synagogue was the market - several short cobblestone streets with stone shops. To the right of this, a structure used for ritual bathing and ritual needs. I walked down the main road past residential streets, pools for fish (used to display fish in the marketplace) and then closer to the shoreline there was a large plaza that shaped the port and near it buildings to support a fish market. The buildings had no roofs and had lost the top section of their walls, but it was all there - The whole city laid out in front of me! To help create the atmosphere, the site also had donkeys, hens and camels.
As Migdal was but a stone’s throw from Genneserat and perhaps a mornings walk to Capernum or to Tabgha or the Mount of the Beatitudes, it was centrally located within the arena of Jesus’ ministry. It seems only logical that Jesus would have walked these streets. I could see him sitting in front of the synagogue conversing. It was the first location I had found in Israel which gave me some picture, some feeling of the world in which Jesus lived, preached and engaged the people.
Near the port, a church had recently been erected and named Duc in Altum, Latin for 'Put Out into Deep Water.' It was lifted a scripture passage when Jesus tells the disciples, after a long day of preaching, to “Put out into deep water and cast your nets.” The disciples responded that there was no good fishing left that day, but they did as he instructed, and to their surprise, pulled up a full catch. Fr. John, the priest whose vision made this archeological site a reality used this as his motto. He didn’t know how he was going to purchase the land, do the archeological dig, build a hotel and pilgrim center, and raise the funds to make it all happen, but he would say to himself at each juncture “Go into the deep” and so it became the motto for the project and logically the name of the church.
Fr. John’s vision was to create a site where people could experience the Jesus that Mary Magdalene knew, the Jesus who milled among and ministered to the people of Galilee. And from what I was experiencing, Fr John had done just this. I was elated. It was the experience I had been longing for.
The church, recently built on the site, was a living testament to Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and also to the women who followed him. At the front of the church, instead of an altar, is a large fishing boat. Jesus never stood behind an altar or lecturn. Right? He often positioned himself just off shore and preached standing in a fishing boat. And so, when a priest stands to lead a mass at this church, he does just that - he stands inside a large boat. Behind the boat is an infinity pool giving the effect of the boat in water. Just splendid! (image of the boat in lieu of an altar is at the top of this page)
The nave of the church is rounded with eight pillars. Carved into these pillars are the names of women found in the Gospels. In addition to Mary Magdalene, I was overjoyed to see Joanna and Susanna as well as Mary and Martha. Simon Peter’s Mother-in-law and the Mother of the Zebedee brothers were also honored here. This was a first. To see these women honored, named, included. It brought tears to my eyes. To be recognized after 2,000 years! Where else does this exist? Seeing these women honored in effect succeeded in honoring all the women who followed Jesus, helped spread His Message and helped to establish and maintain Christianity.
There were several small chapels off of the nave. In each of the chapels was a mural depicting an event in Jesus’ ministry on the Galilee. Each of these scenes included the landscape of water, rolling hills trees, villages and the daily life of the market, boats and fish. This to me is part of the sacred feminine: bringing time and place into focus, having it included and honored, helping to fill out the whole story. It gives context and texture.
When Jesus healed someone, it wasn't just him and the one who ailed - it happened in a particular place and this place is part of the story. For instance, the mural depicting the healing of Jairus’ daughter takes place in a house within a village and that house is near a street where there is a market and people looking at or working with loaves of bread, clay jars and pools of fish. Seeing the healing portrayed in this mural, helped to bring it alive - I could enter the story of the healing. It became real.
And just when I thought I had seen the whole church, I spied stairs going to a lower level. Downstairs was the most special chapel of all. The floor of the chapel was part of the original plaza floor of Migdal - the very same cobblestone that the townspeople and perhaps Jesus and perhaps Mary Magdalene and perhaps Simon and Andrew all strode across.
The small underground chapel was circular and cave-like. A simple altar sat at one end. And behind this altar, the most magnificent mural (image below). The mural was huge – perhaps 20 feet across. The mural depicted a crowd of people around Jesus all viewed from the shins down. So I was looking only at feet, sandals and the bottoms of garments. Jesus was easy to identify; wearing a white robe, holding a staff, with the other feet turned in his direction. Reaching through the crowd of feet, was the arm of a woman. This anonymous women’s hand reached out and touched Jesus’ robe.
Magnificent! This depiction of the Hemorrhaging Woman brought tears to my eyes. Her incredible courage sprang to life. I was struck by the sheer audacity it took to reach through this crowd and touch His robe. In this depiction I saw all the women of the Bible. Such incredible courage it took to follow Him - to move past cultural conditioning, to step out of the assigned roles they were asked to play to be accepted by their community, so they could be near Him. They risked so much. I realized it took more than faith. It took audacity. And in this, I saw the deep hunger for the 'living water' that had them each take the plunge and 'put out into deep water.'
After soaking in the images and the vision that came alive in this church, I headed towards the shoreline. Taking in the Galilee, I suddenly felt oriented. I could see Jesus’ ministry here. I could feel the people and the villages and the fisherman and how the villages interacted and supported each other.
I sat down, opened up my journal and began to write. I didn’t write about what I had just experienced as I had done in each of the previous places I had visited. Suddenly, I was writing my play. I had found Mary Magdalene’s voice. My pen flowed smoothly as I began to give her words and hear what she had to say.
Six months ago, as I was immersed in research on Mary Magdalene. The research only served to confuse me. I arrived at a place where I didn't know what I would write, confused about who she was. There are now so many opinions, beliefs and assertions made about her. And I couldn’t find where I stood within all this. In my struggle, I suddenly thought: I will know what to write if I could stand on the shore and look out at the Sea of Galilee. And so I began to dream and plan how to do just that!
And here I was in Migdal, the supposed hometown of Mary Magdalene. And as I gazed out at the Galilee, it was from the same vantage point that I had in my vision six months before. I realized, just as in my vision, I was on the western shore looking out at the Galilee. The day before I was on the northern shore and this was illuminating, but it was on the western shore that I found her voice within me.
What is the meaning of the name Magdala or Magdalene that has been associated with and synonymous with Mary? Tradition has asserted that it is a reference to the town where she is from, as the name Migdal is very close to the name Magdala - just as Capernum is close to the name Kafar Nahum, or Genessaret is close to the name Ginosar (all New Testament names of towns on the Galilee) – kinda like the names Mary or Jesus. Within Galilee, they would have been known as Miriam and Jeshua.
Now, the plot thickens when we discover that the town of Migdal was not officially registered as Migdal until decades after the time of Jesus. The name of this village back in Jesus' time simply translates as: Fishing Village. Yet high on the hill at the back of town stands the remains of a stone tower. The word for tower is Migdal. The tower functioned as a lighthouse and way to send messages across the water. So, in effect it may have been called “Fishing Village” but perhaps the town was better known by the people of the region and could be more readily located by its Tower, its Migdal. After all, if someone were to say, “I am trying to find The Fishing Village” along the Galilee, the response would be “Which one?” The answer: The village with the Tower.
A further thought I had while sitting on the shoreline is that Magdalene was a nickname, or an initiated name. Jesus called Simon: Peter (rock). The Zebedee Brothers he called: Sons of Thunder. Perhaps Mary, he called: Magdalene. She was a tower – a lighthouse that would broadcast His message.
I left Migdal rejuvenated. What I had thought was travel fatigue was born from a growing belief that I would not find what I was seeking. I had in some ways broadened my search of Mary Magdalene to the search for the sacred feminine. Imagery, honoring and the feeling of the feminine was scant in all that I was seeing. I was losing hope that I would find Mary Magdalene. And in order to find the voice of Mary Magdalene, I needed to find Jesus, how he lived, walked, and moved amid the people of Galilee. I found this in Migdal, in a site that brought the feminine alive, named the woman on pillars and is dedicated to bringing pilgrims an experience of Jesus as Mary Magdalene knew him. Truly a remarkable day!