Where is the Real Place of the Tranfiguration?
Tradition holds that the Transfiguration of Jesus took place on Mount Tabor, the 586 metre-high bluff which overlooks the Jezreel (or Esdraelon) plains.
Some scholars argue that the Transfiguration took place not on Mount Tabor, but on Mount Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi in the far north, where the Gospels locate Jesus a few days before the Transfiguration episode.
But Mount Hermon at 1800m is high and for much of the year snow-covered, and therefore not easily accessible.
Early Christian documents are quite clear about the location of the Transfiguration: on Mount Tabor.
On the other hand, some archaeologists suggest that in Jesus’ time the top of Mount Tabor was settled by people, a proposition that might swing things back to Mount Hermon.
Early Church historians also could not make up their minds. The early 4th-century historian bishop Eusebius of Caesarea entertained both notions, while the anonymous Bordeaux Pilgrim on his journey in 333 AD seems to have been told that the Transfiguration took place on the Mount of Olives.
Cyril of Jerusalem, the great Doctor of the Church, settled the issue in 348 AD when he decided on Mount Tabor.
Church on Mount Tabor
The Piacenza Pilgrim of 570 reported seeing three basilicas on Mount Tabor. Presumably he meant the three large chapels dedicated to Christ, Moses and Elijah respectively, which still form part of the modern Catholic church.
The Moses chapel is covered by the north tower (to the left of the entrance), and Elijah’s chapel, with its original Byzantine mosaic floor, by the south tower. Obviously they represent the three tents which Peter proposed to erect.
The splendid church on Mount Tabor is built in the Roman-Syrian style architecture of the Byzantine age, but it is, in Holy Land terms, young, even as it incorporates remnants from the Byzantine and Crusader structures.
One such remnant is the apse to which one descends 14 steps to have Mass; it is part of the crypt of the old Byzantine church.
The altar is from the Crusader period, and its vaulted ceiling is decorated with a series of mosaics with the recurring theme of three angels who preside over Christ’s birth, the Lamb of God, the Eucharist, and the Resurrection.
The church was inaugurated in 1924. Like many great churches in the Holy Land, it was designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi (1884-1960).
This is an excerpt from Günther Simmermacher’s book The Holy Land Trek, which is now in its second edition.