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Church of Annunciation ~ St. Joseph Church

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Basilica Annunciation Map.png

Places of Interest

Church of the Annunciation
& St. Joseph's Church

Location

 

1. Nazareth is about 15 miles (24 km.) southwest of the Sea of Galilee and about 23 miles (37 km.) inland from the Mediterranean Sea.

 

2. The Church of the Annunciation is in the center of the City of Nazareth, on Casa Nova Street. 
 

Historical Background

 

1. Nazareth had an estimated population of around 300 during the time of Christ.

 

2. It was a small farming town where everyone knew each other.

3. Nazareth had a bad reputation. 

Matthew 1:46: Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

 

There have been unearthed six different layers of archaeological construction and buildings that support this site as being the home of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

1. A mikveh (a Jewish ritual bath) can be seen at this site. This helps us see that this home was Jewish and those living here were faithful in obeying God. This would fit the description of Mary's family. Tradition holds that this home is in the cave grotto on the lower level of the Church of the Annunciation.

 

2. Christians began venerating the home of Mary soon after Christ’s death and resurrection. Remains of a Judeo-Christian synagogue, such as pottery shards, columns, column bases, capitals, cornices, decorated stones, cross symbols, and one remaining wall, show proof of this. Additionally, inscriptions with the name "Jesus" and "Rejoice Mary" were found. 

The floor of this church was oriented towards the south, facing Jerusalem, which was the custom of all synagogues during the time of Christ.

A Mosaic of the Crown from the Judeo-Christian Church was found, which has letters from the name of Christ and encircled by a crown. This reflected the belief that Jesus was the King of Kings.

 

3. Sometime in the middle of the 4th century AD, Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, commissioned the construction of the Church of the Annunciation based on tradition and evidence she found at the site. The church was built over the remains of the Judeo-Christian synagogue. It was oriented toward the east instead of south toward Jerusalem. This was common in this time period.

4. The church Helena built in the Byzantine era (324-638 AD) was torn down by the Muslims in the 7th century AD. Upon the ruins of the Byzantine Church Helena built, the Crusaders built a Crusader Church (1105-1263). It was oriented toward the east like the earlier Byzantine Church.

5. In 1620, the Franciscans purchased the ruins and rebuilt them. In 1730, the church was rebuilt again, and in 1877, it was enlarged. 

 

6. In 1955, the Franciscan Church was demolished to make way for a new church. When the Franciscan Church was removed, excavations took place that provide much of the archaeological evidence we can see today.

 

7. From 1955 to 1969, the church was rebuilt to its current status. It’s now a massive two-story basilica with a modern architectural style. In 1969, when it was completed, it was the largest Christian church in the Middle East. 

8. The church has two levels with two separate churches. The upper church level is for Nazareth’s Catholic community. The lower level is centered around the grotto, which was the home of Mary and the site of the Annunciation. The remnants of the churches from the second century, Byzantine, and Crusader eras can be seen around the grotto.

9. There is another church in Nazareth that commemorates the Annunciation of the birth of Christ as well. It’s the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, which is the traditional site held by the Eastern Orthodox churches. However, it doesn't have nearly as much evidence as being the authentic site of Mary's home as the Church of the Annunciation does.

Places of Interest 

 

1. Statue of Mary – Her hands are blackened from people touching them so much.

 

2. Written in Latin across the facade over the triple-doorway entrance is the Bible verse: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

 

3. The entryway doors to the Church have carvings of significant events in the Old and New Testaments.

 

4. The current church is a two-story building. The main entrance is on the lower level.

 

5. On the lower level is the grotto that is believed to be the original home of Mary and the place where the angel Gabriel appeared to her. The following archaeological evidence can be seen here that supports this site as the authentic home of Mary.

  • Jewish Ritual Bath (Mikveh)

  • Cave from the Time of Jesus

  • Mosaic Floor of Judeo-Christian Synagogue

  • Mosaic of the Crown from the Judeo-Christian Church

  • Apse & Walls of the Byzantine Church Helena Built

  • Mosaic Floor Tiles of the Byzantine Church

  • Behind the Altar are Stairs Leading Down to the Grotto from the Byzantine Church

  • Crusader Walls

  • Crusader Pillars

  • Crusader Apse

 

6. The words written on an altar table at the front of the grotto mean, “Here the Word was made Flesh.”

 

7. On each side of the grotto are the remains of earlier churches.

 

8. The upper level of the basilica serves as the local Roman Catholic parish church.

 

9. Outside the upper level of the basilica are excavations of buildings during the time of Christ.

 

10. Outside the lower level of the basilica is a covered area with mosaic panels of many countries from around the world.

St. Joseph's Church

Evidence supporting the Church of St. Joseph as the authentic site of the home of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus after they returned from Egypt.

First-Century AD Evidence

 

1. We have a mikvah dating back to the time of Joseph and Mary. This would support the idea that a very religious Jewish family lived here. The mosaic tiles were added later to the mikvah, most likely by early Christians in around 100 AD or the Byzantines in around 400 AD. 

2. We have a cave-home complex under us where evidence of household items dating to the first century have been found. The caves, granaries, and wells in this lower level date to the early first century and were typical of what Mary and Joseph would have used.  Later, there is evidence that early Christians turned the site into a worship place. This cave complex is quite humble. We can see a diagram showing its layout. To preserve and protect this cave-home, the public is not allowed free access to it. However, we can see part of it through this iron grill here and the steps leading down to it we'll see in a moment.

Fourth-Century AD Evidence

Next, we see evidence of a Byzantine Church that was built over this site in around 400 AD. The apse at the front of this grotto has been restored, which seems to be from this period. This was called the church of the Nutrition (because Jesus was nurtured and grew up here). It was also called St. Joseph’s House. 

Seventh-Century AD Evidence

Travelers who visited this place in the 7th Century pointed out that this had been the location of the “Carpentry Shop of Joseph.”

Twelve-Century AD Evidence

During the Crusader period, in around 1125  AD, a Crusader Church was built over the site of the Byzantine church. Some remains of this church can be seen inside the new one. It was destroyed by the Arabs (1263 AD)  after the defeat of the Crusaders.

Sixteenth-Century Evidence

During the Ottoman period, the Franciscans acquired the ruins of the Crusader church in 1745, and the first chapel was built in 1754.

Today's Church Evidence

The Franciscans rebuilt the new church we see today in 1914 on top of the earlier churches and cave-home complex. 

Nazareth In the Bible

 

1. Nazareth was the home of Joseph and Mary, and the place where the angel Gabriel was sent to announce to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of Christ the Messiah. 

Luke 1:26-38: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. 

Faith Lesson from the Life of Mary

 

1. Mary was a righteous person whom God saw would honor and obey Him with the great gift of being the mother of Christ. Are we devoted to God in such a way that He would entrust to us abundant blessings?

2. Mary did not remain a virgin after giving birth to Christ, as many believe. She had many other children, as we can see all throughout Scripture: Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is His mother not called Mary, and His brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man acquire all these things?” (Matt. 13:55–56).

 

Are we students of God’s Word so we believe the truth, or do we follow what our church or others teach instead? Who is our highest authority in what we believe: people or God’s Word?

3. Mary is not to be worshiped like some do but is an example to us of a person of deep faith and obedience. Do we revere and honor Mary, or do we worship her?

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