There are many sites of religious significance throughout Israel but you don’t have to be particularly religious to enjoy the beauty of them. Although visits to such places will definitely enhance your appreciation of why they are sacrosanct, you can also bask in their unique atmosphere or wonder at their incredible architecture simply as a tourist. Just remember to be respectful of others and of any guidelines where they exist.
If you do happen to know your bible (or even if not), you will be familiar with The Sermon on the Mount, probably the most famous of sermons, and heck yes, even public addresses of all time. Although the actual, specific site where Jesus delivered his sermon is unconfirmed, for 1600 years it has been accepted as being a small hill known as the Mount of Beatitudes (Har HaOsher in Hebrew) overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
Even if the evidence is unsupported in fact, the site of the Mount of Beatitudes is entirely reasonable as Jesus was based in Capernaum just a few miles away. And try telling otherwise the multitudes of pilgrims and secular tourists who have been visiting this gorgeous site since the 4th century…
Today the Mount of Beatitudes may be set with a church, monastery and hostel but the atmosphere is undeniable. As you stand in the grounds it’s easy to picture the scene of Jesus looking out over the multitude and delivering some of his most powerful words. Imagine the hot sun beating down on the covered heads as they strained to capture his every word and not worrying about being crushed by the crowd. You can’t fail to be stirred.
From this vantage point on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee, you can also look upon the places where Jesus lived and worked so it is fitting that the Church of the Beatitudes was erected here. There is archaeological evidence of a church being near to the current building dating from the late 4th century and this coincides nicely with the pilgrimages that are recorded at around the same time. It is reasonable that after revering the site of the Sermon, pilgrims would want somewhere to pray. There is a rock-cut cistern and the remains of a little monastery that you can explore as well as seeing part of an original mosaic floor on display in Capernaum.
The present Church of the Beatitudes was built in 1938 and harks back to the golden era of Byzantine architecture. It is built in an octagonal shape to represent the eight beatitudes, has a marble veneer and there’s a gold mosaic in the dome. In 1984 a mosaic floor was designed and installed by Italian Vasco Nasorri.
The Church of the Beatitudes is a gorgeous place to while away an hour or so before moving out into the beautiful gardens where you can spend a few more hours contemplating the beatitudes or just enjoy the sights of the floral borders, trees and statues. Alternatively, sit on a bench conveniently positioned so you can fully appreciate the view or just soak up the warm Israeli sun.
How do I get there?
You can reach the site via a road that climbs up from the Sea of Galilee road (Road 90) at Tabcha junction, towards Rosh Pina and Upper Galilee. You can see its location on Google Maps here.
The gardens on the Mount of Beatitudes and the Church are open daily between 8:30 and 12:00 and 14:30 to 17:00 with a 16:00 closing time in winter. Entrance is free (though private cars do get charged an entrance fee to the car park).