It was perhaps inevitable that this well-watered area with its shade trees on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Byzantine pilgrims ate their picnics, should have been identified as the location of two gospel episodes involving the consumption of food, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-44) and the conferral on Peter of the responsibility of leadership after a fish breakfast (John 21). Then it became convenient to localize the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) on the small hill nearby. The Greek word Heptapegon means ‘the place of seven springs’. Until relatively recently they powered mills, and the name was corrupted in Arabic into Tabgha.
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes
The present church, dedicated in 1982, is a reproduction of the mid-C5 edifice, which an inscription attributes to the patriarch Matryrios (478-86). The sill of the left entrance to the atrium, some of the basalt paving stones of the atrium, and part of the frieze in the apse, all belong to the Byzantine church, as does one of the most beautiful mosaic floors in the country; it is also the earliest known example of a figured pavement in Palestinian church art. It does not cover the whole floor area but is limited to the two transepts and the intervals between the pillars. The artist, indisputably a great master, had enough confidence in his skill to avoid any repetitious pattern and covered the area with a free-flowing design of birds and plants.
Immediately in front of the altar is the celebrated mosaic of two fish flanking a basket of loaves. Below the altar table is a block of undressed limestone. The C4 church lies beneath the present floor. During the restoration of the mosaics in 1936 the complete outline was established.
Church of the Primacy of Peter
The modest Franciscan chapel was built in 1933, but at the base of its walls, at the end furthest from the altar, the walls of a late C4 AD building are clearly visible on three sides. The eastern end of this edifice has completely disappeared, but cuts in the rock and the proportions of the comparable C4 Church of the Multiplication suggest that its length was twice in width. It thus enclosed the flat rock projecting in front of the present altar. This is probably the one mentioned by Egeria. In the early Byzantine period it would have been venerated as the table on which Jesus offered breakfast to the disciples: ‘As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it’ (John 21:9). This text probably explains why, in the C9, the site was known as the Place of the Coals. The church survived longer than any others in the area, and was finally destroyed only in the C13.
Source: The Holy Land by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor