Still from 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth (NBC)
Still from 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth (NBC)

Archaeologists believe they may have uncovered the remains of an ancient synagogue where Jesus preached.

Recently, Catholic organisation the Legion of Christ bought land on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel, where it decided to build an inter-faith church, a women's centre and restaurant.

In Israel, it is compulsory for archaeologists to excavate sites before construction work can begin and to their surprise, experts found the remains of a first-century synagogue, one of only seven in Israel.

It stands on the site of the ancient town of Magdala, birthplace of Jesus' follower Mary Magdalene, where he is believed to have spent much of his life.

"This is the first synagogue ever excavated where Jesus walked and preached," father Eamon Kelly told Haaretz, calling it "hugely important" for both Jews and Christians.

Experts believe the synagogue was built in the first century as a simple structure, which was further developed in the year 40 AD.

Magdala was located on an important trade route that ran along the shore of the sea from Egypt to Syria and the town's synagogue would have been an important place for a wandering preacher such as Jesus to spread the word.

"He was a clever rabbi. He knew where to set up shop," Kelly said. "If you walk from Nazareth to Bethsaida to Capernaum, you're going to come out here."

There is biblical evidence to support the view that Jesus knew Magdala.

Matthew 15 verse 39 describes Jesus visiting the town "and he took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala (sometimes also translated from the Greek as Magadan)."

Kelly said ancient synagogues used to function as meeting places, not just places of worship.

"So if a strange rabbi came to town, a new rabbi, a new preacher, a new teacher, the logical place was to meet here," he said.

It is believed the synagogue was destroyed by the Romans in their war with the Jews in 67 or 68 AD and the ruins were buried over time.

The synagogue also contains a limestone carving, which is the oldest ever depiction of the menorah, with the second oldest dating from 82 AD, on Rome's Titus Arch.

Kelly revealed the site serves as a reminder of the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity.

He said: "In here, we have a place that helps us to recognise what we share in common."