Church of the Transfiguration – Mount Tabor

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Background: Mount Tabor is a small “mountain” (575m) located in the Jezreel Valley in the Lower Galilee. Although mentioned many times in the Old Testament (Joshua, Judges), it is most famous for being the traditional site of Christ’s Transfiguration, where he is seen to be radiant and speaking with Moses and Elijah, and called “Son” by God. A Franciscan church sits on top of the mount, built over older Byzantine and Crusader churches. Inside the church is made up of three chapels, one on the right and left for Elijah and Moses respectively, and a larger one in the center for Christ.

Impressions: Mount Tabor is much higher than it seems. It looks like a small hill and seems like a short walk, but it’s not. And the Israelis don’t help much either. I think all Israelis have a very skewed sense of time, because all of them said it was a 30 minute walk to the top, but it’s really about 2 hours, if you walk quickly. This also explains why Israelis are late for everything all the time. After walking half way up we hitchhiked the rest of the way with an Israeli couple who were going paragliding. Mount Tabor is a popular spot for para and hang gliding, and from the bottom (and top) you can see dozens of people soaring around. The church itself is great: it’s isolated and not easy to get to (buses can’t go up so tourists either hike or take a small car – which means less huge tour groups). It’s quiet inside and not to crowded, but has the same splendor as the rest of the churches in the area.

Story: How I got Beer From a Monk

The church closes at 11.45am and reopens at 2pm for the monks and workers to eat lunch. My friend Markus, who’s German but speaks Spanish fluently, and I arrived at around 11am and stayed inside for about 40 minutes until closing time. A Franciscan monk, who turned out to be very very friendly, was quietly ushering visitors out when Markus, noticing that he was South American, started speaking to him in Spanish. The monk’s face instantly lit up: he had just arrived a month ago from studying in Rome and had not met another Spanish speaker since. He quickly made sure everyone was out, closed the doors to the church, and led us into the sacristy. There we (more like Markus and the monk) spoke for a long while. My French was surprisingly useful. I was able to follow the conversation about the history of the church and the monk’s personal history but of course was unable to speak. He then led us into a back garden (seen in one of the photos) near the remains of the older Benedictine Monastery (also in photos) that was here before (none of this is open to the public by the way), and next to the kitchen where he started to stuff our hands with fruits and cookies, saying we would need food for the hike down, before we could say yes or no. Then he led us into a lounge area where there were a few couches and a flat screen TV. He opened the fridge and said we needed something to drink too, before handing us… two Heinekens. I never really thought about it but I didn’t know monks could drink. I guess they can (they drink wine for communion), but when I picture a monk I don’t imagine him sitting back on a sofa with a cold one in his hand, but I might now. The monk then let us go (he had things to do), but promised to invite us back for dinner. He’s called my friend twice already in the last two days.

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~ by jonathanmtsai on May 8, 2011.

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