“And then, suddenly, we hit the Roman level,” Notley remembered, after the team found glass mosaic pieces gilded in gold.
Such ornate pieces would have only been present in a church.
Notley cross-referenced the church’s location with the account of an eight-century Bavarian bishop named Willibald. In 725, Willibald visited holy sites along the Sea of Galilee and described a basilica he stayed at overnight as being the house of St. Peter in Bethsaida, where the el-Araj site is now.
The location also corresponds with Josephus Flavius’ description of Bethsaida in 30.
Dig offers rich spiritual experience to volunteers
The dig is led by both Notley and archaeologist Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College, who assemble a team of volunteers from around the world every season to work on the excavation. Volunteers include Christians, non-Christians, Jews, and Arabs.
Notley told CNA that those interested in joining future excavations should visit the dig’s website. The next excavation will take place in October. The team will complete the cleaning of the church, and hopes to uncover more inscriptions.
Father Eamon Kelly, a priest who serves as vice director of the nearby Magdala retreat center, is a close friend of Notley, who allows him to livestream daily devotionals at the site.
Kelly told CNA in an email that “[Notley] always invites me to speak with his students and pilgrimage groups at Magdala, and it has truly been exciting to livestream my daily Sunrise Stroll and Chat at the el Araj dig now for a number of years and watch the wonderful progress of this archeological dig.”
“Digging up the gospel stories and early Christianity/Jewish connections in Galilee these recent years at Magdala, and now in el Araj, enriches our knowledge and stimulates us on many levels,” he added.
Fr. Kelly’s Sunrise Stroll and Chat devotionals, which he films at the archaeological site, are available to follow along here.
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