The Franciscans come to Magdala

April 20, 2024
Fr. Cristobal Vilaroig L.C.
The Franciscans come to Magdala

"The work of the pick is still expected.”

In 1889 Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land purchased a piece of land north of el-Mejdel, where an ancient tower was known as Birket Siti Mariam (the Reservoir of Lady Mary). The German architect R. Lendle, who carried out the transaction on behalf of the Franciscans, enclosed the property with a wall and made some humble archaeological surveys. Lendle did not publish his findings, but years later, he would write that near the tower/reservoir, he saw the remains of a church and a stone engraved with a cross and the date 1389; he also wrote that he saw remains of mosaics in several places.

In 1935, Fr. Bellarmine Bagatti went with some other Franciscans to visit Magdala and confirmed that, as Lendle had described, within their property, there were beautiful Byzantine mosaics; of the church, he saw not the slightest hint. Departing from their property, the Franciscans entered the village of el-Mejdel: "The mukhtar (chief) Mutlaq, with his numerous children and grandchildren born of his nine wives until they formed a whole village, showed us all the visible and invisible ruins, as he hoped to sell them to the Custody of the Holy Land." Especially, he showed them "the ruins that he wanted to sell us and that he said were from a church. We saw two arches and a semicircular wall to the east." Ultimately, the Franciscans left without buying anything, but Fr. Bagatti drew a detailed sketch of what he saw. In 1967, he wrote about Magdala: "The work of the pick is still expected.”

It wouldn't take long for the archaeologist's pick to arrive. But first, there would be war.