The transformation of water into wine at the Marriage at Cana or Wedding at Cana is the first miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John. In the Gospel account, Jesus, his mother and his disciples are invited to a wedding, and when the wine runs out, Jesus delivers a sign of his glory by turning water into wine.
The location of Cana has been subject to debate among biblical scholars and archeologists; several villages in Galilee are possible candidates.
John 2:1-11 states that while Jesus was at a wedding in Cana with his disciples, the party ran out of wine. Jesus’ mother (unnamed in John’s Gospel) told Jesus, “They have no wine,” and Jesus replied, “O Woman, what has this to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother then said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:3-5). Jesus ordered the servants to fill containers with water and to draw out some and take it to the chief steward waiter. After tasting it, without knowing where it came from, the steward remarked to the bridegroom that he had departed from the custom of serving the best wine first by serving it last (John 2:6-10). John adds that: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and it revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).
Although none of the Synoptic Gospels mention the marriage at Cana, Christian tradition based on John 2:11 holds that this is the first public miracle of Jesus. It is considered to have symbolic importance as the first of the seven signs in the Gospel of John by which Jesus’ divine status is attested, and around which the gospel is structured.
It is still a matter of discussion among theologians whether the story is to be understood as an actual transformation of water into wine, or as a spiritual allegory. Interpreted allegorically, the good news and hope implied by the story is in the words of the steward of the Feast when he tasted the good wine, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10, NRSV). This could be interpreted by saying simply that it is always darkest before the dawn, but good things are on the way. The more usual interpretation, however, is that this is a reference to the appearance of Jesus, whom the author of the Fourth Gospel regards as being himself “the good wine”.
The story has had considerable importance in the development of Christian pastoral theology. Fulton J. Sheen thought that it is very likely that it was one of Mary’s relatives who was being married. The gospel account of Jesus being invited to a marriage, attending, and using his divine power to save the celebrations from disaster are taken as evidence of his approval for marriage and earthly celebrations, in contrast to the more austere views of Paul the Apostle as found, for example, in 1 Corinthians 7. It has also been used as an argument against Christian teetotalism.
The miracle may also be interpreted as the antitype of Moses’ first public miracle of changing water (the Nile river) into blood. This would establish a symbolic link between Moses as the first savior of the Jews through their escape from Egypt and Jesus as the spiritual savior of all people.
Some commentators have speculated about the identity of the unnamed bridegroom. One tradition, represented by Thomas Aquinas among others, holds that the bridegroom was St John the Evangelist himself. Bishop John Spong suggests in his book Born of a Woman that the event was actually the wedding of Jesus himself to Mary Magdalene. In 1854, at a time when polygamy was an element of mainstream Mormon practice, the Mormon elder Orson Hyde made a similar suggestion, arguing that Jesus was a polygamist and that the event at Cana was his wedding to Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary of Bethany.
The exact location of Cana has been subject to debate among scholars. Modern scholars maintain that since the Gospel of John was addressed to Jewish Christians of the time, it isn’t likely that the evangelist would mention a place that did not exist.
Locations which are candidates for historical Cana are:
- Kafr Kanna, in Galilee
- Khirbet Qana, also called Kenet-l-Jalil, also in Galilee
- Ain Qana, Southern Lebanon
- Qana, Southern Lebanon.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1914, a tradition dating back to the 8th century identifies Cana with the modern Arab town of Kafr Kanna, in Galilee, about 7 km northeast of Nazareth. Other suggested alternatives include the ruined village of Khirbet Qana, also called Kenet-l-Jalil, about 9 km further north, and Ain Qana, in Southern Lebanon, which is closer to Nazareth and considered to be a better candidate on etymological grounds. Some Christians, especially Lebanese Christians, believe the southern Lebanese village of Qana to have been the actual location of this event.
In the journal Biblical Archaeological Review, Michael Homan argues that many biblical scholars have misinterpreted early texts, translating to ‘wine’ when the more sensible translation is ‘beer’.
Columba of Iona supposedly performed an identical miracle when he served as a deacon in Ireland under Finnian of Movilla, and there was no wine for the mass.