Day 3: Nazareth

Nazareth sits up on a hill, a city of white buildings visible against the green of the mountain. When Jesus says, “a city on a hill cannot be hidden,” I can’t help but think he had this in mind. 

Nazareth is the site of Jesus’ boyhood home. He spent 25 years of his life here before he began his public ministry. These years are known as the missing years as the scriptures don’t give us information about this time. 

During Jesus’ life, Nazareth was a small village of about 200-350 people. It was a country town with little reputation. You might remember Nathaniel asking, “What good can come from Nazareth?”  Now, more than 75,000 people live there. It is said that Nazareth has the largest population of Israeli Arab Christians in the country. 

Our first stop was at the community of the Sisters of Nazareth, a French Roman Catholic order. The church and school were founded in the 1800’s. The sisters were told by local residents that the church was built over the grave of a just and righteous man. This was regarded as a nice piece of religious folklore until archaeological evidence was found under the church. 

The short story is that they found the remains of a Crusader era church built over the remains of a Byzantine Church that was built over the remains of a 1st century home. That home had a tomb underneath it, which is very unusual as tombs inside the towns were limited to prophets and important people. 

They had found the grave of the legendary “just man.”  Given all of the evidence, a compelling case can be made that this was the house of Joseph. Either way, we were able to witness amazing archaeology, a first century home (including a manger), and a 2st century tomb (complete with a round stone).  Clear as mud, right?

Altar of the Byzantine church.
Remains of a 1st century house discovered underneath three churches–the Byzantine, Crusader, and the modern Sisters of Nazareth church.
The tomb. Dated during the Roman era due to the round stone rolled in front. This adds insight into the kind of tomb in which Jesus would have been buried.
Inside the tomb.

The tradition and memory of the church is a gift from God. Imagine–over 1,800 years, Christians remember that a venerated grave sat in that spot. They held that memory and tradition long after concrete evidence faded away. And it was vindicated as true in the late 19th/early 20th century. 

Christian memory is a gift from God. We have a long memory, held intact by the Holy Spirit. 

The Church of the Annunciation
The Church of the Annunciation is a short distance from this site. The Church of the Annunciation is built over the ruins of a 1st century  that is believed to be the home of Mary, mother of Jesus. This tradition has great weight as it has been held from the earliest of the church. 

The Church of the Annunciation remembers the angel Gabriel announcing Mary’s pregnancy. It is the largest Christian church in the Holy Land. 

Doors of the church depict scenes of Jesus’ life.

The remains of Mary’s house.
The first floor of the church is sparsely decorated. It is built around the remains of Mary’s house. There is an altar just in front of it. 

The second floor of the church is abundantly decorated with art from all over the world. 
The art of the church can be described as 

  • Marian (or centered around Mary)
  • Multi-national. Nearly every country submitted art and iconography to be displayed at the church. 
  • Modern
  • Mysterious 

This piece, submitted by the United States, is displayed in the second floor sanctuary.

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