In Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Tiberias, some new information panels will guide from now on the visits of tourists and pilgrims to one of the most important archaeological sites of the Holy Land. Finally, it comes to say. This is confirmed by Father Luca Panza, a Franciscan, who has been in Capernaum for almost nine years, following the project since its inception: “It took five years to install the signs in Capernaum”, he says laughing. “But the result is good, at least from what I can see from the photos” (Father Luca is now back in Italy).
The beginnings, in 2017
Five years ago, therefore, back in 2017, before the pandemic and the crisis of raw materials, the need arose to install new information signs for visitors arriving on the Capernaum site. Brother Luke explains why: “The pilgrims who had been to Capernaum, often and willingly leaving the site, asked us friars where they had been. They asked about the places they had visited, what places they were… Especially pilgrims from Asia.”
Visits to the Capernaum site “are often very fast, a bit ‘to the penny, many times by individual tourists. That’s why”, continues Father Luca, “I thought of installing signs on the site that could help visitors”. It was, in fact, November 2017.
The proposal was immediately forwarded to the attention of Father Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, who immediately guaranteed the authorization. “Francesco gave the placet“, says Father Luca with a strong Brescian accent. Father Custode also provided the community of Capernaum with practical indications on the realization of the panels: these should have been similar, in shape, color, writings … to those then already present on the site of the church of the Flagellation, in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Experts for texts
Father Luca, comforted by the favorable opinion of the Custos, contacted during the following year, 2018, a committee of experts who could draw up the texts for the panels. It was not a very simple job: Capernaum is a complicated site, which has been studied for a long time in various directions and of which many aspects have been explored. In short, the material is abundant, and to orient oneself requires experience. “We immediately contacted Fra Alessandro Coniglio, who made a first draft of what could be the explanation of the site, and then we asked several times for the opinion of Fra Eugenio Alliata“, says Father Luca.
Father Alessandro Coniglio and Father Eugenio Alliata, both Franciscans, are two authorities in the field of biblical archaeology. Father Coniglio, professor of Biblical Hebrew at the Studium biblicum franciscanum, is the secretary general of this formation institution of the Order of Assisi, with important scientific responsibilities. Father Eugenio Alliata, now professor emeritus, is considered an undisputed authority in the field of biblical exegesis and the historical contextualization of sacred texts.
Ready to go
In short, having collected the opinion of the competent authorities and drafted the texts for the panels, the phase of technical implementation has begun. “We found ourselves, on the advice of Francis, the Custos, with Sara Cibin, who is the head of the Terra Sancta Museum in Jerusalem. With her and with Vincenzo Zuppardo, who is also involved at a technical level in conservation projects in the Holy Land, we started the operational part. We checked the materials, the location, the size of the writings…”.
After having fine-tuned everything also from a technical point of view, only the final approval by the Custody was missing, with the financial coverage. Father Luke turned to the Discretory, the competent body within the Jerusalem facility. No objections were encountered, and indeed, it was thought that the capernaum could become a useful experiment for all the convents of the Custody. So permission was given.
The pandemic stop and the end of the works
But, it is known, all organizational steps take time above all. And in the meantime we had reached the threshold of 2020. By the beginning of that year, the project was ready. “But then Covid came”, says Father Luca. And there, the works ran aground. Subsequently, with the timid reopening of trade, there was the crisis of raw materials, which still today makes its effects felt: “And the material was there, then the material was not there”, comments Father Luca ironically, “then we had to do the inspections: and where we put them, and where we do not put them …”. In short… The laborious post-pandemic recovery has also slowed down this project.
But in the end, everything went well, and today the information panels, brown in color written in ocher and cream, stand out on the capernaum site. “I hope they stay in time, to give a hand to tourists and pilgrims who enter this archaeological site. I hope they will serve especially those tourists who come to us a little alone, who at least here will find a little explanations done well”.. This is how Father Luca comments, still smiling.
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