The excavations of the Sinagogue in Magdala, the old village of Mary Magdalene.

© Lenush/Shutterstock


Sea of Galilee

When the Legionnaires of Christ, a Catholic congregation based in Mexico, began building a spiritual retreat in 2009, they were astonished to discover a synagogue from the 1st century CE, dated to the time of Jesus by a local coin minted in 29 CE. The excavations – work continues every summer – are now an open-air museum. Situated 6km north of Tiberias on the site of the ancient town of Magdala (Migdal in Hebrew), home of Mary Magdalene.

Inside the synagogue, archaeologists found the Magdala Stone, a rectangular altar – discovered facing south towards Jerusalem – decorated with a seven-branched menorah that is unique because it was carved when the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing. The altar may have been used to read the Torah. The original is at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (there's a copy here).

Visitors can also see the elegant Worship Center and its six mosaic-adorned chapels. Volunteers conduct free tours in English, Spanish and sometimes other languages. A 160-room guesthouse is under construction.

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