"Step right this way, folks...it's a miracle, a miracle." This town in northern Israel has everything but circus barkers touting its main product. Storefronts are alive with oversize signs all telling the same story: This is the spot where Jesus Christ performed the first of some three dozen miracles.
Biblical accounts say Jesus and his mother, the Virgin Mary, walked a few miles from their home in Nazareth to the town of Cana for a wedding. The turnout was a lot bigger than expected, and -- horrors! -- the host ran out of wine. Mary, according to the story, asked Jesus -- who until then hadn't done any miracles -- to turn six big jars of water standing around the house into wine. He did what mom wanted, which helped launch Jesus' ministerial career and later put Cana into the business of selling souvenir wine to tourists.
Not one but three churches today mark the somewhat disputed (more about that later) spot in Arab-Israeli Cana where Jesus saved the day for the wedding couple. One is a Roman Catholic church, another is the Greek Orthodox Church of the Wedding Feast and the third is the Chapel of St. Bartholomew (believed to be another name for Jesus' disciple Nathanael, who was born in Cana).
Is the wine any good? In Biblical times, it was reportedly top notch. One account says the guy in charge of the wedding told Jesus: "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."
Today, the wine gets mixed reviews, but most tourists keep unopened bottles around their homes as souvenirs of their trip to Israel (or to show the colorful Cana labels to their friends and neighbors).
Some historians believe the Biblical town of Cana was located elsewhere in the region, one site possibly closer to Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Among other possible locations is the city of Qana in southern Lebanon.
Photos by Bob Schulman