A MYSTERIOUS secret tunnel network unearthed in Israel could be the site where Christians believe Jesus turned water into wine.
The discovery could put an end to centuries of debate over where Christ performed his first miracle.
An archaeologist measures part of a cave network that may be the site where Jesus turned water into wine
Pilgrims have long been flocking to Kafr Kanna — a town in northern Israel that some believe is built on top of the ancient settlement of Cana.
It was here in Cana that the Gospel of John says Jesus attended a wedding where the wine ran out.
He ordered the servants to fill the jugs with water — which then miraculously transformed into wine.
But now some archaeologists believe the Cana of Biblical times may be a dusty hillside five miles further north.
The ancient caves are five miles north of the town where many modern Christians thought Jesus performed his miracle
The ancient site contains pieces of water vessels similar to those used in biblical times
Jesus attended a wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine, according to the Gospel of John
It is the former site of Khirbet Qana, a Jewish village between the years of 323 BC and AD 324 — where archaeologists have discovered a number of compelling clues.
Excavations there have revealed a network of tunnels used for Christian worship.
They are also marked with crosses and references to Kyrie Iesou — a Greek phrase meaning Lord Jesus.
And amazingly, an altar and a shelf hold the remains of a stone vessel with room for five more.
Six stone jars like this held the wine in the biblical account of the miracle.
Dr Tom McCollough, who is directing the excavations said there were three other sites with a credible claim to being the Cana of scripture.
A number of compelling clues have been found at the former site of Khirbet Qana, a Jewish village between the years of 323 BC and AD 324
A griffin with gold leaf found near an altar in the tunnels
But he added: “None has the ensemble of evidence that makes such a persuasive case for Khirbet Qana.
“We have uncovered a large Christian veneration cave complex that was used by Christian pilgrims who came to venerate the water-to-wine miracle.
“This complex was used beginning in the late fifth or early sixth century and continued to be used by pilgrims into the 12th-century Crusader period.
“The pilgrim texts we have from this period that describe what pilgrims did and saw when they came to Cana of Galilee match very closely what we have exposed as the veneration complex.”
Khirbet Qana was inhabited in the early fourth century and is believed to have been the ancient village of Cana
The area is five miles from where today’s pilgrims flock to celebrate the miracle
As part of his evidence, Dr McCollough points to the work of first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.
He said: “His references to Cana align geographically with the location of Khirbet Qana and align logically with his movements.
“The reference to Cana in Josephus, the New Testament and in the rabbinic texts would argue the village was a Jewish village, near the Sea of Galilee and in the region of lower Galilee.
“Khirbet Qana fulfils all of these criteria.”
Water into wine: What was Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding at Cana?
SEVEN miracles were attributed to Jesus of Nazareth – but his first was turning water into wine.
Appearing in the Gospel of John, Jesus is said to have attended a wedding at Cana with his disciples.
When the party ran out of wine, Jesus instructed the servants to fill the jugs with water.
When the head servant drew liquid from one of the jugs he said that he was ready to serve the best wine of the event.
John wrote: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and it revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him”.
In the remark about the “best wine” being saved for last, worshipers treat this as a message about holding out for hope.
Many also see the reference to the good wine as being a symbol for Jesus.
There are four candidates for the historical location of Cana:
Locations which are candidates for historical Cana are:
As for the better-known site at Kafr Kanna, Dr McCollough is sceptical.
“When tourists visiting Israel today are taken to Cana, they are taken to Kafr Kanna,” he said.
“However, this site was not recognised as a pilgrimage site for those seeking Cana until the 1700s.
“At this point the Franciscans were managing Christian pilgrimage and facilitating easy passage rather than historical accuracy.”