Capernaum was a fishing village in the time of the Hasmoneans. Located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other. A church near Capernaum is said to be the home of Saint Peter.
Archaeological evidence demonstrates that the town was established in the 2nd century BC during the Hasmonean period. The site had no defensive wall and extended along the shore of the nearby lake (from east to west). The cemetery zone is found 200 meters north of the synagogue, which places it beyond the inhabited area of the town. It extended 3 kilometers to Tabgha, an area which appears to have been used for agricultural purposes, judging by the many oil and grain mills which were discovered in the excavation. Fishing was also a source of income; the remains of another harbor were found to the west of that built by the Franciscans.
The white synagogue in Capernaum was the first building on which archaeologists focused their investigations and was brought to light beginning with the first excavations in 1905, followed by those of Father Gaudenzio Orfali in 1921. In 1969 the Franciscans Corbo and Loffredo undertook renewed investigations of the synagogue. Their excavations, carried out in stages over a thirteen year period, involved twenty-three trenches opened both inside and outside the synagogue.
Saint Peter's house
Capernaum owes its fame to Jesus, who made it the centre of his activities in Galilee, and to the numerous references in the gospels to things that happened there. When Jesus left Nazareth he made Capernaum his home-town (Mt 4: 12-17; 9,1). Here Jesus paid the temple-tax for himself and for Peter (Mt 17: 24-27). He called his first disciples (Mt 4: 18-22; 9: 9-13). He healed a possessed man (Mk 1: 21-28), Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8: 14-15), a paralysed man (Mt 9: 2-8) and the centurion’s servant (Mt 8: 5-13). He taught many times in the synagogue at Capernaum and it was here he proclaimed himself to be "the living bread that came down from heaven" (Jn 6: 26-59). The episode of Jairus’daughter and the woman with the issue of blood (Mk 5: 21-43) and of the man with a paralyzed hand (Mk 3: 1-6), probably happened at Capernaum. The gospels also speak of Jesus’Mother having been in Capernaum (Jn 2: 12).
Concerning the transformation of Peter’s house into a Domus-ecclesia, has come down to us the precious testimony attributed to an already well-known pilgrim to the Holy Land, Egeria, writing towards the end of the fourth century: "And in Capernaum, what is more, the house of the prince of the apostles (Peter) has been turned into a church, leaving its original walls however quite unchanged".