Source: B. Bagatti, Ancient Christian Villages of Galilee (SBF Collectio Minor 13), Jerusalem 1999, pp. 68-71, figs. 33-34.
MAGDALA HOME OF MARY MAGDALENE
A woman called Mary and known because she became a fervent follower of Jesus made Magdala, her native village on the shore of Lake Tiberias, famous.
Much has been written about this woman. Too often the writer, sacred or profane, has allowed his imagination to run away with him and has produced fiction rather than fact. Hence we believe it opportune to stick to the bare bones of the gospel passages so as to have accurate documentation.
A passage from St. Luke (8,2) tells us that “Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,” followed Jesus together with other women “who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities “ This is the only certain passage which speaks of Mary before the Passion of Jesus.
Mary appears in Matthew (27,60-61) and in Mark (16,9) when she and the other women, after the burial of Jesus, “were sitting opposite the sepulchre.” She figures most prominently when she sees the risen Jesus (Mark 16,1-10) and has the mission of announcing the Resurrection to the apostles. (John 20,1-18).
In Talmudic sources Magdala appears as the home of Rabbi Isaac. It may possibly be identified with Migdal Seboya, which seems to have been a part of the city, and would have been destroyed on account of the immorality of its inhabitants (Lam.R. 2, 2; TJ Ta‘anith 4:8, 69a; one of the texts gives the name as Magdala, the other as Migdal Seboya). According to Neubauer (GTalm., p. 217) “this statement finds partial and most curious confirmation in the episode of the sinful woman of the gospels, Mary Magdalene. As her name indicates, she was from Magdala.” The author’s arguments in general are well documented but on this point he is inaccurate, because Magdala would have been destroyed not long before the 3rd century, and certainly Mary lived long before that. Secondly, there is no evidence that Mary was a sinner – if she had been, she had sincerely converted and followed the straight and narrow path. Finally, ancient sources present her far away from her mother town.
On the other hand, it is interesting to examine the story of the destruction of Magdala and its causes. Magdala is associated with Shihin which was destroyed because its inhabitants engaged in magic (Lam. R. 2, 2; TJ Ta‘anith 4:8, 69a; cf. Neubauer, GTalm., p. 202). Now both immorality and magic were two vices which the Jews used to ascribe to the Minim, that is, the Jewish Christians: one has only to think of Capernaum. It is possible that Magdala, or at least certain quarters of the town, were destroyed because they were inhabited by Minim, who were considered heretics and were fought as such. Kefer Sekhnaya too was destroyed because it did not keep the mourning over Jerusalem (Gittin 57a; G.F. Moore, Judaism, II, Cambridge, 1958, 67 n. 1). A propos of the destruction of Magdala the Talmud has a query by an inhabitant of the town who asked Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish, who died in 275, whether it was permitted to use the stones of the destroyed synagogue in order to build another.
The Christian sources collected in the ELS (nos. 364-374) mention Magdala as the home of “domna Maria” in the 6th century, and as “vicum Magdalenae” in the 7th. The first to mention a church dedicated to the Magdalene is the monk Epiphanius in the 9th century, who writes: “Two miles (from the Heptapegon) there is a church where the house of the Magdalene is, in the place called Magdala, where the Savior healed her.”
According to a legendary Life of Helena and Constantine, the church would have been erected by the Empress; but the most we can learn from this piece of news is that in the 9th or 10th century, when the Life was written, the church appeared to be very old. The ecclesiastical composition once attributed to Peter of Sebaste, now restored to Eutychius, Patriarch of Alexandria in the 10th century, confirms that it was a memorial church: “The church of Magdala, near Tiberias, attests that Christ cast out seven devils from Mary Magdalene” (Liber Demonstrationis, CSCO 193, p. 136).
The church is not mentioned by Crusader pilgrims; but the Dominican Ricoldus de Monte Crucis, who visited the place in 1294, says that he found a “beautiful church, still intact, but boarded up, where we sang and preached the Gospel of Magdalene” (ELS, no.376).
The tower which gave rise to legends remained visible. Thus the Jesuit Fr. Nau, in 1668, heard that the place was called”burge flaaschem, that is, the tower of lovers” (Voyage nouveau, p. 593); and he was told that the remains of a church could still be discerned. However, he only got a fleeting glance of the tower.
On April 24-25, 1935, on instructions from the Custos, Fr. Nazzareno Iacopozzi, Fr. S. Saller and I visited the place to study the ruins, with the help of by Fr. Gregorio Ocio, warden of the Franciscan Hospice in Tiberias. The village muktar Mutlaq, with the many children and grandchildren from his nine wives, sufficient to form a village, showed us all the ruins, visible and invisible, since he expected to sell them to the Custody of the Holy Land. On this occasion we made a rough plan of the antiquities which still has documentary value since no further excavations and surveys have been carried out at the place.
A narrow road separates the Franciscan property from the Muktar’s estate. In the former there is a water reservoir called Sitti Mariam, in memory of Magdalene, a heart-shaped pillar base, like those found in Capernaum, cushion mouldings and, near the enclosure wall, the remains of a house with mosaic with three mosaic-paved rooms. The patterns of the mosaics are all geometrical, much like the various mosaics of the 4th-7th centuries. The motif of fish-scales appears in the fields and a step pattern in the border. The colours are three: white, red and black. The walls are razed almost to the ground.
According to archive documents, near the reservoir there had been the church, of which the German architect Leyden saw the remains of the apse. He mentions also a stone with a cross and the date 1389, and another stone with a Hebrew inscription.
On the property of the Muktar, there were ruins which he wanted to sell, and which, he said, were those of a church. There we saw vaults (marked A on our plan) and a semicircular wall to the east with smaller supporting walls (B-D). The walls are thick and were built with two outer faces filled with rubble. The vault seems to be too low for a church and too high for a crypt; so we thought it may be the remains of a tower. Guérin had the same impression many years ago (Galilee, I, p. 204). A wall that runs parallel to the shore and is connected with the ancient building shows that this structure was part of a large complex. The Muktar’s sons led us through the kitchen garden and pointed out the places of ancient conduits and mosaic pavements; but we could check very few of these. They await the pick.
Other visits to the place after 1948 showed that the Muktar’s houses had been destroyed and the place deserted. Some new finds came to light with the construction of a conduit which carries the salty water of Tabgha away from the lake: they could be profitably followed up since they revealed new aspects of the town. To the east of the road a great wall was uncovered, with rooms and many potsherds, among them a large quantity of Byzantine ware. To the west of the road, towards the south, tombs built in masonry and some stone sarcophagi with simple decoration were uncovered. We can infer that the cemetery was on this side at the foot of this mountain.
From 1971 to 1973 Fathers Corbo and Loffreda conducted excavations at Magdala; and besides discovering the remains of the Roman city built with beautiful dressed stones, they also brought to light the Byzantine remnants. These extend within and outside the boundaries of the Franciscan property, where the Arab village was once located. The excavation is not complete; nevertheless, it has brought to our knowledge many rooms and pavements decorated with geometric designs. Though remnants of ecclesiastical furniture have been discovered, the church has not yet been located. Father Corbo published a preliminary report (LA 24  pp. 5-18). For more sources and bibliography, see Tabula Imperii, s.v. Magdala, Tarichae.
(TS 1967, with additions)
Magdala. Sketch of the ruins made in 1935.” width=”540″ height=”378″ />