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nazareth annunciation

Located at the heart of old Nazareth, by a centuries’ old tradition the Church of Annunciation is built over the home of Virgin Mary, and where she became miraculously pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The site is one of the most significant Christian pilgrimage destinations in the Holy Land and is visited by thousands, on daily basis.

History and Archaeology of the Church of Annunciation

The Gospel of Luke provides the most detailed account of the Angel’s visit to Mary, announcing she will conceive Jesus:

 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26-28)

The site marking the angel’s visit has been venerated since the 4th century and perhaps even earlier. The first church constructed next to the holy Grotto is probably from the early 5th century, as it bears images of crosses on its floor. Depicting crosses on church floors was banned in 427 CE. The church has a basilica shape and a single apse facing east. A Greek inscription on the church’s floor indicates that a Deacon from Jerusalem named Konon sponsored it. The Crusaders rebuilt the church on a grand scale, but never completed it. Five of its capitals were hidden, perhaps because of the Crusaders’ defeat to the Muslims in 1187 CE near Tiberias (The Battle at the Horns of Hattin).

The Church Rebuilt

Only in the mid-18th century did the Muslim ruler Daher el-Omar grant the Franciscans a charter to build a church, within 6 months. Completed in 1730, the franciscans enlarged it in 1877, but in 1955 they decided to demolish it for a new one, matching its significance in Christianity. Antonio Barluzzi, the chief architect of the Franciscans, sketched a new church. It would have a concentric design and a high domed ceiling, echoing the Hagia Sophia. Surprisingly, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem favored Muzio’s more traditional Basilica design. Barluzzi died in 1959; some say broken hearted for failing to design the new church of Annunciation.

The Church of Annunciation Today

Completed in 1969, the current church of Annunciation is said to be the biggest church in the Middle East. It is a powerful and monumental building whose “Brutalist-eclectic” design reflects well the architectural trend of the mid-20th century in both its architectural style and some of its artworks. The top of its conic-shaped dome echoes a lighthouse, symbolizing the light that directs the followers to safe grounds.

The Courtyards

church-of-annunciation-mary-iconsThe courtyards and inner walls of the church are adorned with dozens of Mary icons in various materials. These are gifts of Catholic communities from all around the globe, each reflecting the community’s local style and iconography.

The Ground Floor

The ground floor of the church bears various remains of the previous churches, all built around the holy cave, the home-cave of Mary. The excavations also uncovered significant finds that possibly relate to the holy family’s home and worship at the site by Judeo-Christians early. The most important findings are:

A First-Century Ritual bath? – Some believe a rectangular installation uncovered next to the 5th-century church is a 1st-century Jewish ritual bath (a mikveh). If so, it is an essential testimony to the Jewish presence here in early Roman times. Archaeologists found a similar installation under Saint Joseph Church.

“XE MARIA” Graffiti –  A column base uncovered in a layer beneath the 5th-century church bore a Greek graffiti reading “XE MARIA” – “Heil, Mary.” The Franciscan archaeologists suggest this is an essential testimony to a shrine built next to the cave before the 5th century by a Judeo-Christian community. A pilgrim visiting the shrine during the Roman period engraved this graffiti on the column base. The inscribed column base and other artifacts found in the excavations are today on display in a museum adjacent to the church (The Terra Sancta Museum of Nazareth).

The Holy Cave –  The church’s focal point is the cavern, identified as Mary’s home cave. It is not open to the public but can be viewed from the side. In its center stands an altar bearing the Latin inscription VERBUM CARO HIC FACTVM EST—“Here the Word Became Flesh.”

The Second Floor

The church’s second floor has one of the most extensive mosaic walls in the world. It presents Jesus, Peter, and Mary, venerated by the Pope and the Catholic world. The inner side of the conic dome above resonates with the Lily flower, a symbol of the Virgin Mary’s purity. 

Touring the Church of Annunciation

The church is open all days of the week, free of charge. Visitors are requested to dress modestly and speak softly. In high season you might expect a cue in front of the Holy Grotto.

A tour of the Church of Annunciation can be combined with a guided day tour of Nazareth and the Galilee.

Contact us to inquire more about a private tour of the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth:

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