Saint Joseph’s Church, Nazareth
Saint Joseph Church is in the heart of Nazareth, merely a 100 feet from the Catholic church of Annunciation. By a Medieval tradition, the church is built over the home of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. The church is a popular Christian pilgrimage destinations, and bears interesting archaeological remains.
The History of Saint Joseph Church
It is uncertain when the site was first venerated as the home of Saint Joseph, or his carpentry workshop. By local tradition, later Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived here. Being so, the church marks the place where Jesus grew up. The current church, from 1914, is New-Romanesque in style. Although elegant in design it is dwarfed by its neighboring Church of Annunciation. An Altar in its crypt is bears a Latin inscription reading – “HIC ERAT SUBDITUS ILLIS” – “Here he was subject to them “. This alludes to Luke’s text of Jesus “ ..went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51). Being so, the church is also called “The Church of the Nutrition”.
Why Is the Church of the Holy Family’s House So Humble?
Being Jesus’ home, for at least 3 decades, it is a bit surprising that the church commemorating the Holy Family’s home is so unpretentious. Especially considering the colossal size Church of Annunciation next to it. The possible explanation is that the Gospels do not record any events relating to Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth. On the other hand, the Church of Annunciation marks a short yet significant event that proves the divinity of Jesus.
The crypt beneath the church bears several antiquities –
A Ritual Bath? – A rectangular installation carved into the bedrock is accessed by seven steps, and its floor is decorated with a rather plain mosaic floor. Franciscans archaeologists suggested that this may have been a baptismal font. Others even suggested that it may have been the Holy Family’s ritual bath (miqveh). However, based on parallels, current research suggests that it is merely a winepress, from the Byzantine period.
Grotto and Silos – A tunnel carved beneath the rectangular installation curves into a specious cave with bell-shaped silos carved beneath it. Such grain silos were also found under the Church of Annunciation and seem to be typical to Nazareth in Antiquity.
A cistern – Near the crypts’ exit is an ancient hewed water cistern. A trough carved next to its mouth, implies that the cistern’s water was used to feed livestock. Today, pilgrims toss coins into the cistern as a blessing.
Additional archaeological finds, mostly architectural fragments, are spread in the garden next to the church.
Where was Joseph’s Carpentry?
While some traditions maintain that Joseph had a carpentry in his home, the archaeological evidence under Saint Joseph Church does not provide any clue of such. It is possible to argue that non survived; but perhaps there never was. The Gospels use the Greek word TEKTON to describe Joseph’s occupation. Its translation to “a Carpenter” in English is not accurate enough. This term has a more general meaning, of a craftsman. Joseph could have been a builder, or an artisan, possibly employed in the nearby city of Sepphoris, which was being developed in that time.
Touring the Church of Saint Joseph
The Church is open every day of the week and is free of charge. The Church’s interior is adorned with images of the Holy Family. A big mosaic wall of the Holy Family was installed in the crypt in 2015. Being a Holy Christian site, visitors are requested to dress modestly and speak softly.
A tour of Saint Joseph Church can be combined with a guided day tour of Nazareth and the Galilee.