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Nazareth is a town in northern Israel situated in in Lower Galilee, near Haifa. It is the capital and largest city in the country’s Northern District. It is sited on a hill which overlooks the Plain of Jezreel. It is well known across the world as the home of Mary and her husband Joseph, and the childhood home of Jesus, according to the New Testament. The town is known as "the Arab capital of Israel", due to the large proportion of Arab inhabitants; 69% of the population are Muslims, whilst just under 31% are Christians, in a town of approximately 76,000 people. Furthermore, Upper Nazareth (Nazareth Illit) is situated adjacent to old Nazareth and here live approximately 40,000 Jewish inhabitants. In 1974, this Jewish sector was declared a separate city.

Above: Panoramic stitch showing a view of Nazareth from "Mount of the Start"

Although Jesus grew up in Nazareth, he was later rejected by its inhabitants and moved to the town of Capernaum, which became his headquarters (for text and photos taken from a visit to Capernaum on this website, click Here). The modern town of Nazareth is a place for both pilgrims and tourists alike and located here are to be found several shrines commemorating its biblical associations. Some of the buildings were rebuilt, after destruction by the Muslims during the Middle Ages. Amongst the main places of pilgrimage or sites of interest, depending on the visitor’s reasons for coming here are the Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation (where the archangel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary to inform her she would become the mother of the Son of God), the Church of St Joseph (built on the site where Joseph’s carpentry shop is traditionally held to be), St Mary's Well and the Church of St. Gabriel (the Greek Orthodox counterpart to the Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation). For any would-be visitor to Nazareth, it may be worth mentioning the town can get busy with respect to vehicle traffic and is not without modern amenities (for example, a McDonalds in the centre). The Jesus Trail pilgrimage route connects many of the religious sites in the town and continues on a 37 mile (60km) walking trail, ending up in Capernaum. Some photos and accompanying text on the main sites in Nazareth seen during a visit here in early 2018 follows.


Above: Modern street scenes in Nazareth

Basilica of the Annunciation

The Basilica of the Annunciation, also known asthe Church of the Annunciation, is the largest Catholic church in the Middle East. The towering cupola of this imposing building stands over the cave that according to Roman Catholic tradition was the home of the young Virgin Mary and the site where the Archangel Gabriel announced the future birth of Jesus, the Son of God, to her (Luke 1:26–31). Here, Mary is said to have uttered her consent: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”. Carved in Latin across the façade over the building’s triple-doorway entrance are words which translate as “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) – the outcome of Mary’s consent.

Above: Perspective image showing the entrance to the upper level of the Basilica of the Annunciation.

Completed in 1969 and designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio, the large basilica is set on two floors in a modern architectural style. Effectively two interconnected churches, one on each floor, the building is colourfully decorated inside. The main entrance leads into the lower level and is on the building’s western side. The limestone façade is decorated with reliefs of Mary, Gabriel and the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and above them can be seen a bronze statue of Jesus. Inside, the lower church houses a sunken grotto which contains the traditional cave home of the Virgin Mary. The cave is flanked by remains of earlier churches on the site and inside it stands an altar with the Latin inscription “Here the Word was made flesh”. It is thought that the first church here was built around the year 427. Above the cave is a large octagonal opening which rises through the upper church right underneath the towering cupola of the church.

Above: Inside the lower level of the Church of the Annunciation, which contains the traditional cave home of the Virgin Mary.

From the lower level, a spiral staircase near the main entrance leads up to the large upper church, which serves as the parish church for Nazareth’s Catholic community. The main outside entrance of the upper church is on the northern side of the building and this leads off to a large elevated square. Inside the upper church, the walls are adorned with colourful representations of the Virgin Mary in a variety of materials, presented by various nations from around the world. Behind the main altar can be seen a large mosaic which depicts the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

Above: Inside the upper level of the Church of the Annunciation. In front of the altar, a large whole in the floor opens up to reveal the location on the lower level of the traditional cave home of the Virgin Mary.

Dominating the townscape, the building’s Cupola represents an inverted lily, opening up its petals to the shrine underneath. It is surmounted by a lantern symbolising the Light of the World. On the southern side of the church is a door (leading into the lower church), over which stands a statue of Mary aged 14, welcoming all who come to visit her home. When the modern basilica was built, excavations on the site revealed the remains of the ancient village of Nazareth including cave-dwellings and a shrine or synagogue church, dating back to before the first church was built; on the base of a column was found a Greek inscription which reads in English "Hail Mary", the words used by archangel Gabriel upon greeting the future mother of Jesus. Some of the excavated remains of ancient Nazareth can viewed by taking a look underneath the large elevated square which leads off the modern upper church:

The thumbnail gallery below shows more photos taken from outside the Church of the Annunciation, inside the lower church [Photos 15-39], inside the upper church [Photos 41-61] and of the excavations seen underneath the elevated square [Photos 66-73]. Click on any image to enlarge:

Church of St Joseph

The St. Joseph's Church is a Roman Catholic church located near to the aforementioned elevated square outside the upper church of the Basilica of the Annunciation. This location is traditionally regarded as being where Saint Joseph’s carpentry workshop was, Joseph being the husband of the Virgin Mary. It was built in the Romanesque Revival style in 1914 over the remains of older churches. Also known as the Church of the Nutrition, this church is fairly modest in comparison with the towering cupola of the nearby Basilica. The church is built over a cave and the idea that this was the site of Joseph’s workshop is tenuous due to there being no evidence supporting this. If this was, indeed, the site of the Holy Family’s home, the cave is unlikely to have been used for carpentry in the sense of woodwork. Joseph's profession is described in the Gospels using the word “tekton” which is Greek for builder or artisan and it is quite probable that he would have worked with both stone and wood, the former being a common local building material at the time. Furthermore, his work may well have been away from home.

The first known mention of the site where the church stands dates back to the work of a 17th-century Italian writer and Orientalist, Franciscus Quaresmius, who refers to it as “the house and workshop of Joseph”. Inside the church, steps lead down to a crypt where signs explain archaeological discoveries made here. The church’s apse has three paintings of note: The Holy Family, The Dream of Joseph, and The Death of Joseph in the Arms of Jesus and Mary. Some more photos taken from here are shown in the thumbnail gallery below [Click on any image to enlarge]:

Mary's Well

Heading further northeast in the centre of Nazareth is the site of Mary’s Well, or "The spring of the Virgin Mary" (Photo, Above). According to tradition, this is another location said to be the place where angel Gabriel announced to Virgin Mary that she will give birth to the son of God (the Annunciation). The well was installed over an underground spring that was used as a source of water for Palestinian villagers over the centuries. The well has been renovated a couple of times (in 1967 and in 2000) and the structure seen today simply provides a representation of an older structure that was once in use and so is more of a monument than a well.

Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

Above: The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

Also known as the Church of St. Gabriel, this richly frescoed 17th century Eastern Orthodox church is located some 140 metres from Mary’s Well. It is built on another site where the Annunciation is claimed to have taken place and according to Greek Orthodox tradition, the underground spring over which the church stands is where the Virgin Mary was drawing water when the message came from the Archangel Gabriel. Water from the spring, which still runs inside the apse of the church, also fed Mary's Well. The water can be seen by heading down into a barrel-vaulted crypt which was first constructed in the 4th century under Constantine and is Nazareth's only year-round spring. Some more photos of the interior and exterior of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation may be seen in the thumbnail gallery below [Click on any image to enlarge]:

Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent

The Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent is a neo-Gothic church which was built between 1906 and 1923. Run by the Salesian religious order, it is situated on a hill with panoramic views overlooking Nazareth. The hill is called "Mount of the Start" and according to tradition, Jesus spent his youth here, hence the church's name. The church is located next to the school of the Salesians. Both of these are shown in the photos below:


[Photos: February 2018, Text: 2018]

Related Pages on this Web Site:

Dead Sea
Golan Heights and Mount Bental
Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias)

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