Friday, 2 January 2015

Churches of the Holy Lands : 2
The Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha

The Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha.
Beneath the High altar is preserved the stone on which the Miracle
is believed to have been performed.
Surrounding it are 5th century mosaics from the original church.
Although the location is not specified for Christ's miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, tradition attributes it to the town of Tabgha on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. A church on this site was built in the middle of the fourth century and was enlarged around the year 480.

An overview of the history of this venerable site can be found here.

But this ancient church was destroyed towards the end of the seventh century. Remarkably, a reconstruction of the old church was completed in 1982! And it is this church which is the subject of this post. This church is also in the basilican style - but is quite different from the Church of the Nativity, which was the subject of our previous post. Here we find a building which is more Romanesque than Classical Roman. 

Interior of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.
The ancient mosaic floor is preserved, although the actual church
was built in the late 20th century.
The church is strikingly unadorned, but has a serene and noble character.

The unadorned simplicity of this church is most beautiful, but it has a serious deficiency. Looking at the photographs, one thing is immediately obvious : there is insufficient focus to this church. The focal point for any church ought to be, of course, the High altar. Although the presbyterium here is elevated above the nave and transept floors, the altar is not as visible as it ought to be. Altar and floor and wall are all of much the some monochromatic colours.

Presbyterium of the Church, arranged very much in the ancient style :
a freestanding altar, central chair for the bishop and benches for the presbyters
alongside the bishop's chair.
Curiously, the corona of lights and candles is not above the altar, but that area in front of it.
In the transept can be seen part of the surviving stone wall of the ancient church.

Since the altar itself is built over that hallowed spot where Christ's Miracle is believed to have taken place (the stone visible beneath the altar), covering the altar with a frontal may not be an appropriate measure to give the altar more prominence. An altar resting merely on four columns was constructed so that the spot would be easily visible.

Another view of the presbyterium, shewing the surviving mosaic floor
and the stone beneath the altar.
The altar lacks sufficient prominence for it to be the focal point of the church
not least so because of the absence of decoration in the apse.
The whole matter would be readily resolved were a ciborium or canopy built over the altar. Instead of looking towards a blank wall, a ciborium would become the focal point and lend added dignity both to the altar and to the site of the Miracle. Perhaps a future generation will add that ciborium.