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Inside an Eastern church

 

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Bright frescoes and gilded iconostasis in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

For Western Christians unfamiliar with the rich church decoration and elaborate worship of the Eastern Church, a visit to the Melkite Church of the Annunciation in the Old City of Jerusalem offers a useful introduction.

This unobtrusive building — not to be confused with the towering Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth — is the patriarchate church of Jerusalem’s Greek Catholics.

Usually overlooked by both mapmakers and pilgrims, it is tucked into the patriarchate property in the Christian Quarter. (Entering the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, take the third street on the left — Greek Catholic Patriarchate Road — and the patriarchate is about 50 metres on the right. Descend the stairs to the left of the reception desk and the church door is on your left.)

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Road sign near Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (© Joseph Koczera)

The separate existence of the Greek Catholic Church dates from 1724, when a split occurred in the ancient Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch and a small group chose communion with Rome rather than Constantinople.

Now numbering 1.6 million worldwide, the Greek Catholics form the second largest Christian church in the Holy Land (after the Greek Orthodox). An Arab church, it has big numbers in the Galilee and a small community in Jerusalem.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Door to Melkite patriarchate, Jerusalem (© Joseph Koczera)

Melkite, meaning “royalist”, was originally an uncomplimentary term applied to Eastern Christians who accepted the authority of the 451 Council of Chalcedon and the Byzantine Emperor. The term is no longer used by the Eastern Orthodox.

 

Frescoes in ‘symphony of colour’

The Church of the Annunciation, built in 1848, is arguably the most representative Byzantine church in Jerusalem.

From the dome down to pew-height, its interior is richly adorned with frescoes in vibrant colours. As writer George Martin puts it, the church “seems alive with prayer even when silent. The vaults and walls . . . are covered in a symphony of colour.”

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Christ the Pantokrator in dome of Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

The frescoes, which simulate the stylised motifs of Byzantine icons, were added during renovations in 1974-75. The artists were two brothers from Romania, Michael and Gabriel Moroshan.

In Orthodox tradition, the frescoes follow a clear theological plan. At the top, in the dome, is Christ the Pantokrator, the Ruler of All. Depicted below him, around the dome, are the central act of worship, the Divine Liturgy; the Twelve Apostles; and major prophets and other figures of the Old Testament.

From there, clockwise around the church, the entire life of Christ — from the Annunciation to the Resurrection — is illustrated with profound symbolism. Below is a layer depicting saints, to remind worshippers that these holy people are present during worship.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Birth of Jesus, in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

This description of the scenes from Christ’s life comes from Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land, co-authored by Alison Hilliard and Betty Jane Bailey:

“Each scene is interconnected: Take the scene of Christ’s birth, painted directly opposite the scene of the Resurrection. Both symbolise why Christ came to earth.

“In the first icon, Christ is born into a stone coffin, a sarcophagus, a symbol of death. His mother is kneeling next to him, dressed entirely in red.

“This is unusual: In the East, the Virgin Mary is normally painted in blue and red — the blue stands for heaven, the red for earth — symbolising the one who combines heaven and earth by giving birth to the God-man. In this scene, however, Mary’s dress is explained by looking across the church at the icon of the Resurrection.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Resurrection of Jesus, in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

“Here Christ is shown standing on the shattered gates of hell in the form of a cross bridging the mouth of hell. He is resurrecting out of the sarcophagus Adam and Eve, symbolic of mankind. Eve is dressed in red, just as Mary was, showing that the first Eve, who sinned, is replaced by the second one who gave birth to Christ who overcomes sin and raises us to life.

“The second icon therefore completes the scene of the Nativity and explains it theologically. Make the connection from manger to coffin, from swaddling clothes to shroud, from cave to tomb and from birth to death and the new birth of Resurrection.”

 

Suggestion of final glory

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Below icons of saints, curtains are drawn over today’s holy people, in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

Powerful symbolism continues around the church. Below the icons of saints, down at pew level, the artists have painted drawn curtains. The suggestion is that, on the last day, the curtains will be pulled back and worshippers will see their own faces glorified.

Across the front of the church, the iconostasis separates the nave from the sanctuary. This screen is richly embellished with gilded icons, Christ depicted on the right of the central doors and the Virgin Mary with the Christ child depicted on the left.

The central doors, known as the Royal Doors, open out to the congregation three times during the liturgy: When Christ comes in the form of the Gospel and a deacon stands in front of the doors to read the text; when the unconsecrated gifts of bread and wine are taken to the altar; and at Communion time when the priest brings out the Eucharist to distribute it to the congregation.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Royal Doors in iconostasis of Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Yoav Dothan)

To quote Hilliard and Bailey: “The opening of the Royal Doors is therefore seen to be symbolic of how God erupts into human history — through his Word and his Sacrament.”

As worshippers leave the church, a fresco of the dormition of the Virgin Mary reminds them that they are going back into the world where, inevitably, they will die. Mary’s death is presented as a model for their own deaths as her soul, in the form of a small baby, is being taken to heaven by Christ.

 

Byzantine liturgy and Orthodox traditions retained

While the Melkites have adopted some Roman Catholic practices, they have essentially retained the Byzantine liturgy and many other Orthodox traditions. Arabic is the main language of worship.

Like the Orthodox clergy, Melkite priests may marry before their ordination.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Sts Peter and Paul embracing, in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

Melkites make the Sign of the Cross in the same way as the Orthodox — forehead to chest, then from right to left, with the thumb, index and middle fingers joined in honour of the Trinity. The other two fingers are pressed to the palm, in honour of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, in one Person.

Veneration of icons is a common Byzantine practice, respect being paid not to the painting itself but to the person it represents. Some icons are believed to be the means of obtaining miracles, and people pray in front of them for healing or other assistance.

For a sense of the colourful mosaic of Eastern Christian traditions, a small museum in the hallway near the entrance to the church has exhibits of dress, vestments, liturgical items and photos from all of the Oriental churches present in Jerusalem.

 

Administered by: Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-6282023 or 972-2-6271968/9

Open: 8.30am-3pm (sometimes later); services Monday-Wednesday and Friday 7am, Thursday and Saturday 6pm, Sunday 9am. Museum open 9am-12 noon daily (except Sunday) and on request.

 

Related article:

Churches in the Holy Land

 

 

References

Anonymous: Griechisch-Katholisch-Melkitisches Patriarchat (Greek Catholic Patriarchate leaflet, undated)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
Macpherson, Duncan: A Third Millennium Guide to Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Melisende, 2000)
Martin, George: “The Melkites of Jerusalem” (Catholic Near East, November-December 1995)

 

 

External links

Melkite Greek Catholic Church Information Center
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
Brief video of church interior (YouTube)

 

Nazareth

Israel

Church of the Annunciation

Church of St Joseph

Mary’s Well and Church of St Gabriel

Nazareth Village

Church of the Synagogue

Mount Precipice

Franciscan Museum

Church of Jesus the Adolescent

Mary of Nazareth International Center

Nazareth

Modern Nazareth (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

 

Nazareth in Galilee is celebrated by Christians as the town where the Virgin Mary, aged around 14 years, agreed to become pregnant with the Son of God.

It also became the home town of Jesus, Mary and her husband Joseph after the Holy Family returned from fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod the Great’s soldiers.

Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament and has the reputation of being an insignificant backwater — epitomised by Nathanael’s retort when told that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

But being hidden from the public eye, nestled in a hollow among the hills of Galilee, it provided an ideal setting for the years of preparation Jesus needed as he “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour” (Luke 2:52).

It was also a place from which a young boy could watch the world go by: South of the village, a vantage point overlooked the Plain of Jezreel, where traders and travellers passed along a great highway between Babylon and Cairo.

 

Church of the Annunciation

Nazareth

Grotto of the Annunciation (Seetheholyland.net)

Modern-day Nazareth is dominated by the towering cupola of the Church of the Annunciation. It is an Arab city, mainly Muslim, with an adjoining Jewish upper city of Nazareth Ilit, but a profusion of churches, monasteries and other religious institutions make it a major centre of Christian pilgrimage.

The massive two-storey Church of the Annunciation, in strikingly modern architectural style and colourfully decorated, is the largest Christian church in the Middle East.

Its cupola, surmounted by a lantern symbolising the Light of the World, stands directly over a cave in the crypt that is traditionally held to be the home of the Virgin Mary. Here, it is believed, the archangel Gabriel told Mary she would become the mother of the Son of God.

The grotto is flanked by remnants of earlier churches on the site. Its entrance is sometimes closed by a protective grille.

The entrance to the lower church is from the west, where above the triple doorway the façade of cream limestone carries a quotation in Latin: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

A spiral stairway at the main entrance leads to the upper church. This is the parish church for the Catholic community of Nazareth (which is why the inscriptions on the ceramic Stations of the Cross are in Arabic). The main entrance for the upper church is on the northern side.

Over a door on the southern side is a statue of Mary aged 14, the age she is believed to have been at the time of the Annunciation, welcoming all who come to visit her home.

 

Church of St Joseph

Next to the Church of the Annunciation, on the northern side, is the Church of St Joseph (also known as the Church of the Nutrition and Joseph’s Workshop).

This is a solid and unpretentious building, very much in the shadow of the imposing Annunciation basilica — just as St Joseph himself lived in the shadow of Jesus and Mary.

Stairs lead down to a crypt, where a 2-metre square basin cut into the rock, its floor decorated in a black-and-white mosaic, is believed to be a pre-Constantinian baptismal site.

Further steps and a narrow passage lead to an underground chamber. A pious tradition from the 17th century, with no foundation, holds that this chamber was Joseph’s carpentry workshop.

Even if the site was the home of the Holy Family, it is unlikely to have had a carpentry workshop in the modern sense. The Gospels use the Greek word tekton, meaning builder or artisan, to describe Joseph. He most likely worked with stone more than with wood, since stone was the common building material.

The apse of the church has three noteworthy paintings: The Holy Family, The Dream of Joseph, and The Death of Joseph in the Arms of Jesus and Mary.

Mary’s Well

Nazareth

Mary’s Well, Nazareth (Seetheholyland.net)

Some 400 metres north of the Church of the Annunciation, just off the main street, is Mary’s Well. Fed by the main freshwater spring in the little village, it would have been visited daily by Mary, often accompanied by her young son.

According to the Greek Orthodox, whose Church of St Gabriel is adjacent, this is the true site of the Annunciation. But both traditions can be accommodated by an account in the early Protoevangelium of James.

This apocryphal document says the archangel Gabriel first approached Mary as she went to draw water at the well. Frightened by the stranger’s approach, the young girl ran back to her home. There the archangel appeared again and this time delivered his message.

The present water-trough structure is a reconstruction carried out in 2000. Water is piped from the spring, about 200 metres to the north.

Water from the spring can be seen in St Gabriel’s Church, in a well-like structure in the crypt. The stonework dates from the time of the Crusaders, who also built a church on this site. St Gabriel’s, surrounded by a high wall, contains many interesting icons and frescoes.

 

First-century house

In December 2009 the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a house from the time of Christ in the centre of Nazareth. It said this was “the very first” residential building found from the old Jewish village.

Small and modest, the house consisted of two rooms and a courtyard with a cistern to collect rainwater.

The remains of the house were found during an excavation prior to construction of the Mary of Nazareth International Center, next to the Church of the Annunciation. The remains are conserved and displayed in that building.

In 2015 the remains of a first-century building within the Sisters of Nazareth Convent, across the street from the Church of the Annunciation, was suggested as the house where Byzantine church builders believed Jesus spent his childhood.

 

Additional sites in Nazareth

Nazareth has several other sites of interest to pilgrims:

Nazareth Village: Life in the time of Jesus has been authentically recreated on the site of a 1st-century working terrace farm, just 500 metres south-west of the Church of the Annunciation.

Visitors can see and hear the animals, smell and taste the food, see donkeys pull a plough and hear in-character villagers talk about daily life and their work at the wine and olive presses, on the threshing floor and in the weaving room.

Besides watchtowers, a spring-fed irrigation system and an ancient quarry, the village has an accurate replica of a 1st-century synagogue.

Synagogue Church: The dome and bell towers of this Melkite Greek Catholic church rise over the old market of Nazareth, up a street almost due east of St Joseph’s Church.

Nazareth

Synagogue Church, Nazareth (Seetheholyland.net)

The church incorporates a Crusader building believed to be on the site of the synagogue in which Jesus preached. This simple stone room with a plain altar evokes the Gospel account (Luke 4:16-30) in which Jesus read the Messianic passage in Isaiah 61 (“The spirit of the Lord is upon me”) and proclaimed that he was the fulfilment of this promise.

The initial response was favourable, but when Jesus indicated that the proclamation of the Good News was to include the gentiles, his hearers were enraged and tried to throw up off a high cliff.

Mount Precipice: South of Nazareth, on Mt Kedumim, is the cliff on which it is supposed the attempt was made to throw Jesus to his death. A road leads to the site and the view over the Jezreel Valley and Mount Tabor is spectacular.

On the mountain is a ruined church called Our Lady of the Fright Chapel. It commemorates the tradition that Mary, the mother of Jesus, fainted with fear as the crowd led her son to the cliff. But the Gospel says Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (Luke 4:30).

Franciscan Museum: A courtyard on the northern side of the Church of the Annunciation provides access to a museum, on a lower level, displaying artefacts dating back to the 1st century. Of particular interest are five superbly carved capitals, discovered buried in a cave in 1908. Carved in France, they were to have crowned columns at the entrance of the Crusader church. They arrived after the Crusader kingdom had been defeated, so they were hidden.

Church of Jesus the Adolescent: This attractive French Gothic-style church, atop the western Nabi Sain ridge, offers a fine view over Nazareth’s rooftops and the Galilean hills. Above the altar is an impressive marble statue of Jesus as a boy of about 16.

Mary of Nazareth International Center: Just across the street from the Church of the Annunciation, it uses multimedia techniques to show the place of the Mother of Jesus in Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions (open daily 9.30-12am, 2.30-5pm except Sunday).

 

In Scripture:

The Annunciation: Luke 1:26-38

The Holy Family settles in Nazareth: Matthew 2:23; Luke 2:39-40

Jesus preaches in the synagogue: Luke 4:16-30; Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6;

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”: John 1:45-46

 

Open:

Church of the Annunciation: 8am-6pm

Church of St Joseph: 8am-6pm

St Gabriel’s Church: 8am-noon. 1-5pm; telephone first on Sunday

Synagogue Church: 8am-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar); closed Sunday

Nazareth Village: 9am-5pm (last tour begins 3.30pm); closed Sunday

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Dark, Ken: “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?”, Biblical Archaeology Review, March-April 2015
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Israel Antiquities Authority: “A Residential Building from the Time of Jesus was Exposed in the Heart of Nazareth”, media release, December 23, 2009
Joseph, Frederick: “Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth”, Holy Land, spring 2005
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Smith, David: “Where it happened”, The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, December 2007
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

Nazareth (Nazareth Cultural & Tourism Association)
Nazareth (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Nazareth (Wikipedia)
Nazareth (Christus Rex)
Nazareth (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Grotto of the Annunciation (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
St Gabriel Church (BibleWalks)
Mount Precipice (BibleWalks)

Church of the Annunciation

Israel

Church of the Annunciation

Church of the Annunciation (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The towering cupola of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth stands over the cave that tradition holds to be the home of the Virgin Mary.

Here, it is believed, the archangel Gabriel told the young Mary, aged about 14, that she would become the mother of the Son of God. And here Mary uttered her consent: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The outcome of Mary’s consent is carved in Latin across the façade over the triple-doorway entrance: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

The massive two-storey basilica, in strikingly modern architectural style and colourfully decorated, became the largest Christian church in the Middle East when it was completed in 1969. It contains two churches, the upper one being the parish church for Nazareth’s Catholic community.

The cupola, which dominates modern-day Nazareth, is surmounted by a lantern symbolising the Light of the World.

Entry is from the west, where signs indicate a route for visitors. On the cream limestone façade are reliefs of Mary, Gabriel and the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Above them is a bronze statue of Jesus.

Over a door on the southern side stands a statue of Mary aged 14, welcoming all who come to visit her home.

 

Grotto contains cave-home

Church of the Annunciation

Eucharist in front of grotto in Church of the Annunciation (Seetheholyland.net)

The lower level of the Church of the Annunciation enshrines a sunken grotto that contains the traditional cave-home of the Virgin Mary.

The cave is flanked by remnants of earlier churches on the site. Its entrance is sometimes closed by a protective grille. Inside the cave stands an altar with the Latin inscription “Here the Word was made flesh”.

To the left of the cave entrance is a mosaic floor inscribed with the words “Gift of Conon, deacon of Jerusalem”.

The deacon may have been responsible for converting the house of Mary into the first church on the site, around 427.

In front of the cave is another simple altar, with tiers of seats around it on three sides. Above it, a large octagonal opening is situated exactly under the cupola of the church.

Cupola represents a lily

The plan of two churches, one above the other and interconnected, was conceived by the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio.

As well as preserving the remains of previous churches on the lower level, he allowed for the risk of earthquake by constructing the building in three separate sections of reinforced concrete.

Church of the Annunciation

Dome of Church of the Annunciation (Seetheholyland.net)

The soaring cupola represents an inverted lily opening its petals to the shrine below. The symbolism combines the lily, as an image of Mary’s purity, with one of the Semitic meanings of the name Nazareth, a flower.

A spiral stairway at the main entrance leads to the large and spacious upper church. This is the parish church for the Catholic community of Nazareth (which is why the inscriptions on the ceramic Stations of the Cross are in Arabic).

The main entrance of the upper church is on the northern side, leading off a large elevated square overlooking the valley of Nazareth.

Around the walls of the upper church are colourful representations of the Virgin Mary in a variety of materials, presented by many countries.

Behind the main altar is a huge mosaic, one of the biggest in the world, depicting the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”.

 

Excavations revealed early shrine

The first church on the site venerated as Mary’s home was built around 427. The Crusaders built a huge basilica on its ruins, but this too was destroyed when the Crusader kingdom fell in 1187.

In 1620 the Franciscans managed to purchase the site from the local Arab ruler, but it was a further 120 years before they were allowed to build a new church.

When that church was demolished to prepare for the modern basilica, extensive excavations took place. These revealed the remains of the ancient village of Nazareth with its silos, cisterns and other cave-dwellings.

The most sensational discovery was of a shrine or synagogue-church dating back to before the first church was built. Scratched on the base of a column appeared the Greek characters XE MAPIA, translated as “Hail Mary” — the archangel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary.

 

First-century house

In December 2009 the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a house from the time of Christ, on a property next to the Church of the Annunciation.

Nazareth

First-century Nazareth house discovered in 2009 (© Assaf Peretz / Israel Antiquities Authority)

The authority described it as “the very first” residential building found from the old Jewish village.

Small and modest, the house consisted of two rooms and a courtyard with a cistern to collect rainwater.

The remains of the house were found during an excavation prior to construction of the Mary of Nazareth International Center. They are conserved and displayed inside that building.

Other sites in Nazareth:

Nazareth

Church of St Joseph

Nazareth Village

In Scripture:

The Annunciation: Luke 1:26-38

 

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-4-6572501

Open: 8am-6pm

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Israel Antiquities Authority: “A Residential Building from the Time of Jesus was Exposed in the Heart of Nazareth”, media release, December 23, 2009
Joseph, Frederick: “Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth”, Holy Land, spring 2005
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford
Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

 

External links

Nazareth (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Basilica of Annunciation (BibleWalks)
Nazareth (Christus Rex)
Nazareth (Nazareth Cultural & Tourism Association)
Nazareth (Wikipedia)
Nazareth (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Church of St Joseph

Israel

Church of St Joseph

Church of St Joseph, Nazareth (Seetheholyland.net)

A fond tradition asserts that the Church of St Joseph in Nazareth is built over the carpentry workshop of the husband of the Virgin Mary.

The church (also known as the Church of the Nutrition and the Church of Joseph’s Workshop) is a solid and unpretentious building. It stands very much in the shadow of the soaring cupola of the Church of the Annunciation on its southern side — just as St Joseph himself lived in the shadow of Jesus and Mary.

But there is no evidence that the cave over which the church is built was Joseph’s workshop. Even if this is the site of the Holy Family’s home, the cave is unlikely to have been a carpentry workshop in the modern sense.

The Gospels use the Greek word tekton, meaning builder or artisan, to describe Joseph. He most likely worked with both stone and wood, since stone was the common building material in the area.

Joseph’s work may have taken him away from his home. A likely place of employment was the Roman city of Sepphoris or Tzippori, which was being rebuilt by Herod Antipas at the time the Holy Family arrived from Egypt. The building site was a 50-minute walk from Nazareth.

 

Cave system under church

Church of St Joseph

Death of St Joseph, stained glass in Church of St Joseph (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of St Joseph was built in 1914 on the remains of a Crusader church and over a cave system. The first mention of the site occurs in the work of a 17th-century Italian writer and Orientalist, Franciscus Quaresmius, who described it as “the house and workshop of Joseph”.

The apse of the church has three noteworthy paintings: The Holy Family, The Dream of Joseph, and The Death of Joseph in the Arms of Jesus and Mary.

A stairway in the church descends to a crypt where caverns can be seen through a grille in the floor. Seven further steps lead to a 2-metre square basin or pit with a black-and-white mosaic floor. This is believed to have been a pre-Constantinian Christian baptistry, perhaps used as early as the 1st century.

Beside the basin, a flight of rough steps leads down to a narrow passage which, after turning 180 degrees, opens into an underground chamber 2 metres high.

Off this are openings to grain silos and water cisterns, cut into the soft limestone rock by early dwellers. Such underground repositories were typical of ancient Nazareth.

Other sites in Nazareth:

Nazareth

Church of the Annunciation

Nazareth Village

In Scripture:

Joseph takes Mary as his wife: Matthew 1:18-25

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-4-6572501

Open: 8am-6pm

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Joseph, Frederick: “Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth”, Holy Land, spring 2005
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

St Joseph Church (BibleWalks)
Nazareth (Nazareth Cultural & Tourism Association)
Nazareth (Wikipedia)
Nazareth (Catholic Encyclopedia)
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