The Galilee church where Jesus was believed to have performed miracle of feeding 5,000 followers was set alight in arson attack carried out by extremist Jewish settlers.
Hebrew graffiti was also scrawled across the walls of Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish.
An adviser to the Catholic Church blamed Jewish extremists for the “deplorable” attack after Israeli police said there is a “strong possibility” the fire was started deliberately.
The current structure was built on the remains of a fifth-century Byzantine church at Tabgha on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where many Christians believe Jesus fed 5,000 followers with just five loaves and two fish.
Police confirmed there was extensive damage to both inside and outside the building after the fire broke out in the middle of the night.
A monk and a church volunteer were hospitalised from smoke inhalation, but the incredibly, the prayer area was unaffected.
“It’s deplorable, absolutely deplorable,” Father Gregory Collins, head of the Order of Saint Benedict in Israel, said. “I consider such an attack to be not just an attack on a religious site, on a sanctuary, but also on one of the most visited places in Israel.”
“It is also an attack on freedom of speech, democracy and the right to live here,” he added.
This incident, which happened in June 2015, was not the first such attack to be carried by the extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinian Muslim and Christian holy sites.
In recent years, mosques and churches have been targeted by vandals in similar attacks. They are always attributed to extremist Jews in West Bank settlements.
Such attacks have been on the rise because the perpetrators, who are being backed directly by the Israeli government, go unpunished.