Capernaum Synagogue (White Synagogue)

The Capernaum Synagogue also known as the White Synagogue is a fourth century CE Jewish temple in the ancient fishing village of Capernaum, built on the remains of an earlier first century CE synagogue. The partly excavated building of synagogue dates back to 4th or 5th century CE, there is another first century building underneath it, which is believed to be the actual synagogue of Capernaum where Isa (Jesus) may have preached (John 6:59) and it may have been the center of his activities.

circa 450 CE

Capernaum Synagogue

According to Luke's Gospel, the Capernaum synagogue at the time of Jesus' ministry had been built or funded by a Roman centurion based there. The synagogue was built almost entirely of white blocks of calcareous stone brought from distant quarries. Built of large, white limestone blocks from the hills of Galilee west of the town, it stood out among the buildings of grey basalt surrounding it.

circa 450 CE

Capernaum Synagogue

The ruins of a later building, among the oldest synagogues in the world, were identified by Charles William Wilson. Archeologists have determined that the 2-story synagogue (illustration) was built around the beginning of the third century CE, because of its architectural style, decorations, and inscriptions. The synagogue was built on a platform, two meters above the houses of the town, and separated from it by streets on all four sides.

circa 450 CE

Capernaum Synagogue

The ancient synagogue has two inscriptions, one in Greek and the other in Aramaic, that commemorates the benefactors that helped in the construction of the building. There are also carvings of five- and six-pointed stars and of palm trees. One of the inscription reads (line 1) Herod son of Mo[ni]mos and Justus his son, (line 2) together with (his) children, (line 3) erected this column.

circa 450 CE

Capernaum Synagogue

View from the eastern atrium, the internal walls were covered with painted plaster and fine stucco work found during the excavations. Watzinger, like Orfali, believed that there had been an upper floor reserved for women, with access by means of an external staircase located in the small room. But this opinion was not substantiated by the later excavations of the site. These decorations once embellished the upper part of the building, mainly its outside, but despite the abundance of decorations that survived, it could only be partially restored.

circa 450 CE

Capernaum Synagogue

The synagogue was decorated with a white limestone relief of very high quality and included a number of motifs unknown from other ancient synagogues. Hundreds of fragments of decorated masonry elements were found in a heap covering the remains of the synagogue, scattered nearby, or in secondary use. Jewish motifs were common: a seven-branched menorah with a ram's horn and an incense shovel appears on one capital; on a lintel is a chariot, which is widely regarded as depicting the Ark of the Covenant.

circa 450 CE

Capernaum Synagogue

An aerial view of the synagogue building, it consists of several parts: the main praying hall, eastern atrium or the courtyard, the western patio, a southern balustrade and a small room at the northwest of the building. The praying hall measured 24.40 m by 18.65 m, with the southern face looking towards Jerusalem. The Courtyard. An addition on the eastern side of the prayer hall, constructed at a later date, was reached from the porch in the south by two entrances, with another entrance via a staircase in the northeastern corner of the courtyard.

circa 450 CE

Capernaum Synagogue

The synagogue appears to have been built around the 4th or 5th century. Beneath the foundation of this synagogue lies another foundation made of basalt, and Loffreda suggests that this is the foundation of a synagogue from the 1st century, perhaps the one mentioned in the Gospels (Loffreda, 1974). Later excavation work was attempted underneath the synagogue floor, but while Loffreda claimed to have found a paved surface, others are of the opinion that this was an open, paved market area.

circa 450 CE

Capernaum Synagogue

The synagogue ruins before the 1926 restoration, the Franciscan Father Gaudenzio Orfali began the restoration of the synagogue. The work was interrupted by his death in a car accident in 1926 (which is commemorated by a Latin inscription carved onto one of the synagogue's columns), and was continued by Virgilio Corbo beginning in 1976 CE.

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