Modern multimedia technology portrays the Virgin Mary’s role in salvation history at the Mary of Nazareth International Center, just across the street from the towering basilica that commemorates her agreement to become the mother of the Son of God.
A 55-minute, wide-screen presentation, offered in 10 languages, gives visitors a sweeping perspective of Mary’s place in Scripture.
The content is divided into four parts, each viewed in a separate room: from Creation to Mary’s childhood; from the Annunciation to Jesus’ birth; the 30 years in Nazareth and Jesus’ public life; and from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
The presentation, using still and movie photography, is firmly grounded in Scripture, with no fewer than 224 biblical passages quoted.
Other exhibits focus on Mary as a Jewish woman, Mary in the Qur’an (which has more references to her than in the Bible), Mary as a source of Christian unity, and Mary in the tradition of the Eastern Christian churches.
There is also a world map of Marian shrines, and a terraced garden with plants that are mentioned in the Bible.
The centre, opened in 2011 in a renovated building from the Ottoman era, also contains a significant archaeological discovery — the remains of an ancient house that archaeologists believe is from the Jewish village of Nazareth at the time of Jesus and Mary.
Ecumenical support for centre
The impetus for a Nazareth venue celebrating Mary’s role in salvation history — God’s actions through human history to fulfill his purpose of saving mankind — came from the Association Marie de Nazareth, a Catholic group based in France, which also raised the funding.
The association promotes Christian belief through modern audio-visual techniques such as podcasts, websites, television documentaries and media centres.
The Mary of Nazareth centre was initially run by the Chemin Neuf (“New Way”) Community, another French Catholic group, which has an ecumenical ministry in which Christians from different denominations take part. In 2021 its operation was taken over by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
Though relations between Christian churches in the Holy Land are not always harmonious — scuffles with broomsticks are not unknown at sacred sites — the centre has received the support of the 12 major Christian churches of the Holy Land, including Latin and Eastern Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans.
“Never in history have all the Christian churches of the Holy Land — Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant — united in such a way to support the same project,” said Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Latin (Catholic) patriarchal vicar in Nazareth.
House from time of Jesus
Workers preparing the centre were digging up an old courtyard when they uncovered the walls of an ancient house. Archaeologists then found two rooms, a courtyard with a rock-hewn cistern in which rainwater was collected from the roof, and fragments of clay and chalk vessels.
They also found a pit whose entrance was apparently camouflaged, presumably used by Jews to hide from Roman soldiers during the First Jewish-Roman War in AD 67.
The Israel Antiquities Authority declared the remains were of the first residential building dating to the time of Jesus ever discovered in Nazareth.
Excavation director Yardenna Alexandre said: “The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus. The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period.”
Archaeologist Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land, said: “It’s the only witness that we have from that area that shows us what the walls and floors were like inside Nazareth in the first century.”
Nazareth at the time probably had a population of between 400 and 1200, so it might have had as few as 100 houses. The remains discovered were only 50 metres from the Church of the Annunciation, where tradition places the home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, so it is almost certain that Jesus knew the house and might even have visited it.
The remains of the house have been conserved within the Mary of Nazareth centre.
Administered by: Custody of the Holy Land
Tel.: +972 4 646-1266, +972-52 447-6083
Open: Mon-Sat 9.30-12am, 2.30-5pm; closed Sunday (private bookings available at any time).
Anonymous: Mary Leads us to Jesus (Association Marie de Nazareth brochure, undated)
Kauffmann, Joel: The Nazareth Jesus Knew (Nazareth Village 2005)