In the New Testament of the Bible, Nazareth is described as the place where Jesus spent his childhood. Today it is a small town in the northern part of Israel with a beautiful historical center and pilgrimage sites for Catholics. There are many religious sites to visit including the Basilica of the Annunciation.
Its location is central, which allows you to go for the day but you can miss a lot. I recommend spending the night and enjoying the beautiful colonial hostels and guest houses in Nazareth.
Nazareth is a Greek name and appears for the first time in the gospels of Matthew, “if what was said by the prophets was fulfilled, it was to be called Nazarene.” This would be a Greek adaptation of the Aramaic, of how some later rabbinic writings nicknamed Jesus.
Nazareth is the place where according to the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph and Mary resettled in Nazareth after returning from Bethlehem to Egypt. The Bible says that Jesus spent his childhood here, however some modern scholars also consider Nazareth as the birthplace of Jesus.
The origins of Nazareth are doubtful, since it does not appear in the Old Testament. Nor was it mentioned by the Judeorroman historian Flavio Josefo who made references to all the peoples in the Galilee region. The people are not mentioned in any Jewish text before the third century AD. The first mention of Nazareth in the gospels was in Origen written between 185-254 AD.
However, the city of Nazareth receives more than one million tourists per year (almost half of the tourists visiting Israel).
Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
The site of the Basilica of the Annunciation is where Roman Catholics think the Annunciation was given. According to them it happened in the house of the Virgin Mary. Orthodox Greeks dispute the site, as they believe it happened in the Well of Mary and built a church next to that site.
This Catholic monument is the largest in the Middle East. It began on a simple cave where those who believed in the Catholic religion met, possibly in the fourth century. Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine I, ordered to build a larger structure than today. This structure was destroyed in the seventh century when Muslims conquered Palestine.
Inside is the Grotto of the Annunciation, is where the remains of Mary’s original childhood home are supposedly located. The current church is built on the site of an old Byzantine church, which was later a church in the Crusade era. This church is run by the Franciscan order since the era of the Crusades.
A modern church built by the Franciscans
The Franciscans called Giovanni Muzio, the most modern Italian architect of the twentieth century, to design the basilica. They destroyed the church in 1954 to start building the new Basilica of the Annunciation that was inaugurated in 1969.
The facade of the Basilica of the Annunciation is in the form of a pyramid and at the top is God, followed by the angel Gabriel and the four evangelists.
On the front of the Basilica of the Annunciation the verb “became flesh” is written in Latin. There are two hands of the Jerusalem cross. A narrow hand is the hand of Christ and that of the left of Saint Francis of Assisi. The other half is the Templar cross that marks the four evangelists or the direction (north, south, east and west).
The modern cloister was made with donations from all over the world. The countries sent their representation of how they see the Virgin Mary. You can see beautiful mosaics on the outside and a few on the inside. I did not find the mosaic of Panama, but most of the countries in Latin America were represented.
One of my favorites was that of Japan that has the Virgin and Child, in the chapel on the upper level of the church.
The Second Vatican Council influenced the Basilica of the Annunciation
The Basilica of the Annunciation is the result of the Second Vatican Council that was the modernization of the church. The council accepts the Jewish religion as the basis of the Christian.
The message of the council can be seen very clearly on the front door. Red granite has the most important prophets of the Old Testament, including Moses, Abraham and Elijah, David. On the right are the evangelists. While in the middle is the nativity of Bethlehem, the flight to Egypt, the life of the holy family, baptism in the Jordan River, the crucifixion and resurrection. Above is the divine trinity: father son and holy spirit, which is the Christian message of the church.
Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation
The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation was probably established in the Byzantine era in Palestine. Then it was rebuilt in the times of the Crusades. The church is on an underground spring that is where the Virgin Mary drew water when the Annunciation happened.
To get to the underground chapel of the medieval era you must enter through the modern church and go down seven steps. This cavern was probably built by the Crusaders in the twelfth century. It has ancient Armenian tiles that decorate the walls that lead to a small recess. Then there is an altar and a hallway that leads to the fountain, and a metal cup can be lowered to extract water. There is a closed door for tourists, which is considered to have led to a nunnery.
The Well of Mary
The Well of Mary is the place where the angel Gabriel supposedly appeared to tell Mary that she was going to have the Son of God. This event is called the Annunciation.
The Protoevangelio of Santiago, a non-canon gospel of the second century says “and she took the jug and went out to draw water, and here a voice said: ‘God save you Mary, you are full of grace, blessed are you among women.”
There is no additional confirmation of the site, since the Gospel of Luke does not mention it and the Quran says that a man-shaped spirit visited Mary.
What is certain is that the well was the place where Maria and the other citizens of Nazareth got their water. This underground spring provided water for centuries since the Byzantine era. Excavations made by the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered underground water systems. In front of the well a bathhouse was found used between the years 1300–1400.
The current structure of the Well of Mary was renewed in 1967 and then in 2002. It is a symbolic representation of the structure that was once in use. If you wish to visit it, it is close to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
Nazareth is home to many religious sites for both Catholics and Muslims. Visit it to discover this colonial city that also has delicious culinary options.