Excavations at Capernaum
The ancient ruins of Tell Hum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee were investigated in 1838 by the American Edward Robinson (1794-1863), who was drawn there by the wave of Protestant-inspired biblical archaeology. The scholar of Palestine identified the remains of the precious synagogue, but made no link between the ruins and the Capernaum of the Gospels.
In 1866, another visiting archaeologist, the Englishman Charles William Wilson (1836-1905) made a small excavation inside the synagogue which, however, provided only limited information on the exact layout of the structure. He was the first to identify the village of Tell Hum with Capernaum.
The first archaeological exploration after the purchase of the ruins by the Custody of the Holy Land was carried out by the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (“German Oriental Society”) under the direction of professors Heinrich Kohl (1877-1914) and Carl Watzinger (1877-1948), in the area of the synagogue. The two archaeologists were the foremost experts of their time on Middle Eastern synagogues.
The monument was not fully explored at this time (1905), however; accordingly, immediately after the excavation, the Custody entrusted the task to fra Wendelin von Menden (1851-1921), who not only completed the excavation of the synagogue but also extended the investigations in the following years to the entire area to the west.
With the outbreak of the First World War, the excavations were suspended. They were taken up again only in 1921 and 1926 by Father Gaudenzio Orfali ofm (1889-1926), who discovered the ruins of the Byzantine church and other buildings from the same period situated between the octagon and the synagogue. To Father Orfali is due the great credit of publishing a monograph on the excavations of the synagogue and the discoveries made in 1921. Following his premature death, all systematic explorations in Capernaum were suspended.
In 1968, after nearly fifty years, the Custody of the Holy Land resumed explorations of the ruins at Capernaum, and also of the ruins of the Church of the Primacy of Peter in Tabgha. The excavations were confided to Father Virgilio Corbo ofm (1918-1991), along with his young colleague Father Stanislao Loffeda ofm. From 1968 to 1986 Fathers Corbo and Loffreda directed nineteen seasons of excavations, and a further four were carried out between 2000 and 2003 by Father Loffreda, aided by a team of archaeologists from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.