The Transfiguration refers to an event recorded in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36 when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to view a remarkable moment when the glory of Jesus was revealed. After ascending the high mountain, Jesus was “transfigured” (Greek: metamorphosed) or changed in their very presence. Jesus was described as having a face shining like the sun and clothes that are white as light. Then, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and talked to Him. Peter suggested that he could put up three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, for them to stay in. The booming voice of the Father states: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5, NIV). Upon hearing this, the disciples fell facedown and were frightened. Jesus came over to them, touched them, and encouraged to not be afraid and to get up. The disciples saw no one except Jesus, and they walked back down the mountain to the join the other disciples.
The Church of the Transfiguration marks the traditional place where this monumental event in Jesus’ earthly life occurred and sits atop Mount Tabor. As early as the end of the 4th Century, a church was built on the site. By 570, three Byzantine churches stood on Mount Tabor with the Monastery of the Transfiguration housing Armenian monks by the 7th century. During the Crusades, the mountain was considered a sacred place. Though the monastery was lost to Islamic raiders in 1113, it was retaken by 1115. Then, the three Byzantine churches were replaced by a Basilica that housed a rock believed to be the very site of the Transfiguration. Between 1183 and 1187, the Muslims overran the Greek monastery and eventually the Latin monastery.
While occupying the mountain, the Muslims fortified the site with a wall, thirteen towers, and a rock-cut ditch. Rather than lose the fortifications to the Crusaders, the Muslims destroyed them in 1217. Through all of these attacks, the Basilica of the Transfiguration seems to have survived, but in 1263, the church was destroyed. Franciscans were allowed to live on top of Mount Tabor in 1631. They finally began rebuilding the church in 1858 but the task was not finished until 1924 when the present church, which stands over the 12th century church, was completed.
Visitors enter the site of the Franciscan Monastery and the Church of the Transfiguration through the “Gate of the Wind,” a Medieval style gate that guards a narrow, tree-lined road to the smaller inner gate. The beautiful Basilica stands just beyond the monastery and has two towers standing prominently over the courtyard. Upon entering through the tall, double doors, visitors step into a long sanctuary with extremely high ceilings. The roof sits on exposed wooden beams that rest on pillars with windows in between. High stone arches adorn each side leading to the elevated central altar. Overshadowing the altar is a mosaic depicting the Transfiguration as Jesus is floating with Elijah and Moses while the three disciples cower below. A second altar sits directly below the main altar in an arch shaped tunnel.
The grounds have ruins from previous structures, other gardens, and housing for the Franciscan monks. A Greek Orthodox monastery also sits on top of Mount Tabor a short