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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem




Shepherds’ Field

West Bank

Shepherds' Field

Shepherd and sheep near Bethlehem (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Caves where shepherds “kept watch over their flock” still abound in the area east of Bethlehem. Here, the Gospel of Luke tells us, an angel announced the birth of Jesus.

The angel’s good news was not given to the noble or pious, but to workers with a low reputation. Jewish literature ranked “shepherd” as among the most despised occupations of the time — but Jesus was to identify himself with this occupation when he called himself “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11).

The traditional place of the angel’s visit is the town of Beit Sahur. Originally known as the Village of the Shepherds, it is now an eastern suburb of Bethlehem.

The tradition connected with the Shepherds’ Field is complicated by the fact that archaeologists have identified more than one possible site.


Three possible locations

• In the eastern part of Beit Sahur is a red-domed Greek Orthodox church at a site known as Kaniset el-Ruat (Church of the Shepherds). This site is identified with the biblical Tower of Edar (Tower of the Flock) where Jacob settled after his wife Rachel died. Eusebius (AD 265-340) says the tower, 1000 paces from Bethlehem, marked the place where the shepherds received the angel’s message.

Excavations here have uncovered a series of remains dating back to a mosaic-floored 4th-century subterranean church, said to have been built by St Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine.

Shepherds' Field

Catholic chapel at Shepherds’ Field (Seetheholyland.net)

• On the north ridge of Beit Sahur, about 400 metres north of the Orthodox site, a Catholic site is located in an area called Siyar el-Ghanam (Place for Keeping Sheep).

A tent-shaped Chapel of the Angels, designed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, adjoins the remains of a 4th-century church and a later agricultural monastery. Paintings in the chapel depict the angel’s announcement to the shepherds, the shepherds paying homage to Jesus and the shepherds celebrating the birth of the Messiah.

Beyond the chapel is a cave for small group worship. The area is administered by the Franciscans.

Eastwards from the Greek and Catholic churches is the Protestant Shepherd’s Field, a meadow filled with pine trees. Here a YMCA rehabilitation centre contains large caves with pottery remains.


Field of Boaz is nearby

Beyond Shepherd’s Field to the east is the plain known as the Field of Boaz (or Field of Ruth).

Ruth, a Moabite woman from east of the Dead Sea, is one of the few women to have a book of the Old Testament named after her. She is celebrated especially for her statement of devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who came from Bethlehem: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God . . . .”

The “Field of Ruth” was really the field of Boaz, a wealthy landowner. She met him while gathering up the barley left behind by the harvesters. They married and she became the great-grandmother of King David.

Other sites in the Bethlehem area:


Church of the Nativity

Grotto of the Nativity

St Jerome’s Cave

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria

Milk Grotto

Field of Boaz

Tomb of Rachel



In Scripture:

An angel appears to the shepherds: Luke 2:8-20

The story of Ruth: Ruth 1-4



Greek Orthodox church (972-2-2773135): Open 8-11.30am, 2-6pm (5pm Oct-Mar); telephone first

Franciscan chapel (972-2-2772413): 8am-5pm (Sunday closed noon-2pm)

YMCA, Shepherds’ Field (972-2-2772713)




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)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)


External links

Bethlehem – The Shepherds’ Field and Grotto (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Shepherds’ Fields, Bethlehem (Sacred Destinations)




Franciscan church at Nain (Seetheholyland.net)

The tiny Galilean village of Nain is remembered only because here Jesus brought back to life a widow’s son as he was being taken out through the town gate to be buried.

Jesus met the funeral procession carrying the young man’s body — “his mother’s only son, and she was a widow” — and had compassion for her  (Luke 7:11-17).

The place where the miracle occurred is 7km south-west of Mount Tabor, up a steep road. The village (also known as Naim) looks out on to the Plain of Jezreel.

Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea, identified the location in the 4th century, noting that it was not far from Endor, where King Saul of Judah consulted a medium before his final encounter with the Philistines, described in the book of 1 Samuel.


No gate has been found

Although Luke’s account says Jesus raised the young man near the town gate, no evidence of a gate or wall has been found. Either the gate belonged to a simple enclosure or the word was used figuratively, referring to the place where the road entered the houses.

The first recorded account of a pilgrim’s visit is anonymous (probably by Egeria, who visited the Holy Land as a pilgrim around AD 380). It says: “In the village of Nain is the house of the widow whose son was brought back to life, which is now a church, and the burial place where they were going to lay him is still there to this day.”

After the fall of the Latin kingdom in the 12th century, Nain became a Muslim village (as it remains).

A French monk who visited the place in 1664 related: “In the village are one hundred Arab families, wild as leopards, and therefore only few Christians come. And there is no sign of the house of the widow.”


Muslim helped Franciscans


Christ raising the widow’s son, in Nain church (Seetheholyland.net)

When the Franciscans in 1880 acquired the ruins of an ancient church, which had at one time been converted into a mosque, they were helped by the head of the village.

A report in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano described him as “an honest Muslim with a good heart who gave permission to take water from the only nearby source and stones from his own land — both water and stones as much needed for the building as they are scarce on the site”.

The Franciscans built a simple, rectangular church. Inside, two paintings depict the miracle in different styles.

West of the village, about half a kilometre away from the houses, are tombs cut into the rock on the flank of the mountain. The cemetery was in this area and the funeral procession Jesus met would have been making its way in this direction.


In Scripture:

Jesus raises the widow’s son: Luke 7:11-17

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Open: After the church had remained closed for several years, the Franciscans in December 2019 announced plans to eventually have it open every day. In the meantime the key is held at the Franciscan sanctuary on Mount Tabor.



Bagatti, Bellarmino: “Nain of the Gospel”, Holy Land, summer 2001
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Meistermann, Barnabas: “Naim”, The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert Appleton Company, 1911)


External link

Naim (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Naim (BibleWalks)

Church of the Annunciation


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.


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:


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



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)
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