As the birthplace of Christianity, Israel has many beautiful and historic churches. Some are magnificent feats of architecture known across the world, standing testaments to God’s glory and our devotion. Others are humble chapels you might pass right by without noticing but contain deep historic and spiritual value to this ancient land.
Today we’re going to look at a church that is neither the biggest nor the smallest. A beautiful church with a history and significance all on its own - the Wedding Church of Cana.
Also know as the Church of the First Miracle, the Wedding Church was constructed in 1879 by the Catholic Church. The location was specifically chosen as it is believed to be the exact spot where Jesus worked the miracle of turning water into wine. The story is recounted in John 2:1-11.
"On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So, they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”
And indeed, the Church celebrates this miracle by not only being a premier location for Israeli couples to marry, but by maintaining a small shrine/museum in the lower church. This includes artifacts from the time of Jesus’ life including a winepress, multiple vessels and containers, and the most important relic of the church, a jar that is claimed to be one of the six jars referenced in the miracle. This jar represents a direct connection to the life and actions of Jesus Christ Himself, a piece of physical history. The spiritual and cultural value of this kind of relic cannot be overstated. This is the kind of history that makes Israel such a special country.
While the importance of the Wedding Church is obviously its historical and spiritual connection to the life of Jesus, it has plenty of other charms as well! The exterior of the church is simply beautiful. With a pure white face in a gothic style and covered with sculptures of angels and fine detailing, the church is stunning to look at. Inside, the church has two levels, the lower church with the shrine and museum, and the upper church. The upper church contains a number of wonderful decorations, chief among them a portion of a Byzantine mosaic dating back to the 5th or 6th century. The mosaic even includes a dedication in ancient Aramaic to the generous patron who commissioned the mosaic!
But how does a 5th or 6th Byzantine piece of art end up in a church built in the late 1800s? That’s because this was hardly the first church in this location! Historical documentation can verify that Empress Helena commissioned the construction of a church in the same location in the 4th century. Excavations below the church and in the surrounding area have revealed the ruins of houses from the 1st century and a 5th century atrium. There is also evidence of a Christian funerary building from the 5th century as the area was developed and redeveloped over the years. Indeed, the Franciscans obtained the area in the 1600s and built a church in the same location.
The Church stands on layer upon layer of history. Each artifact and ruin uncovered tells its own story that leads back to the days of Christ. The Wedding Church might not be the most famous church in Israel, but it is an important and beautiful connection to Christ that should not be overlooked!