. . . your guide to visiting the holy places  
If you have found See the Holy Land helpful and would like to support our work, please make a secure donation.
The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem




Church of the Twelve Apostles



The red-domed Greek Orthodox church on the edge of the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum has become an icon of the Holy Land, though it is more often photographed than visited.

Church of the Twelve Apostles

Lush greenery framing the Church of the Twelve Apostles (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of the Twelve Apostles takes its name from the Gospel account of Jesus choosing the Twelve, an event that took place on a mountain in this area of Galilee.

But it is also known as the Church of the Seven Apostles — a reference to Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance by the Sea of Galilee to seven of his disciples — Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John “and two other disciples” (John 21).

Jesus had made Capernaum his home town. The Church of the Twelve Apostles occupies a site to the east of ancient Capernaum, where survivors of a devastating earthquake in 749 relocated their village.

A small, cross-shaped building with white walls, the Church of the Twelve Apostles has two central domes surrounded by six smaller ones, each topped by a cross.

Built in 1931, it stands close to the shore, in a secluded haven of lush trees and gardens. Inside, the walls and ceilings are covered with impressive frescoes depicting biblical themes.


Church of the Twelve Apostles

Gospel scenes in the Church of the Twelve Apostles (Seetheholyland.net)

Church was in no-man’s land

The Church of the Twelve Apostles is believed to stand on the site of a Byzantine church dedicated to St John the Theologian.

Capernaum had been in ruins for several centuries when the site was purchased by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the present church erected.

But following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the church found itself in a demilitarised zone between Israel and Syria.

Local Christians or pilgrims had no access to this no-man’s land, so the church and its adjacent monastery fell into decay, and Druze residents used the church as a barn.

After the Six Day War in 1969, when Israel pushed its border back to the Golan Heights, restoration of the church began with the removal of a thick layer of cow manure covering the floor.

Between 1995 and 2000 the church was redecorated by a Greek iconographer with an eclectic array of Byzantine-style frescoes inspired by works in Orthodox churches and monasteries in various parts of the world, in particular the Balkans.

Church of the Twelve Apostles

Stone iconostasis in the Church of the Twelve Apostles (Seetheholyland.net)


Striking fresco portrays Judgement Day

Brightly-coloured frescoes and icons cover most of the ceilings and walls of the church.

Inside one dome, Christ the Pantocrator (All-powerful) is surrounded by a chorus of 12 prophets who foretold his coming.

In the other dome, Christ is shown as an old man under the title of the Ancient of Days — a name for God from the Book of Daniel — and surrounded by 12 patriarchs.

Church of the Twelve Apostles

Christ the Pantocrator in a dome of the Church of the Twelve Apostles (Seetheholyland.net)

Other frescoes and icons depict the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Madonna and Child, saints who lived in the Holy Land and Galilean scenes from the Gospels — Jesus walking on the water, the calming of the storm, the miraculous catch of fish and the healing of the paralysed man.

The most striking fresco, a dramatic portrayal of Judgement Day, covers the back wall of the church as a reminder to departing faithful that they will be judged by what they do during their earthly lives.

It vividly conveys the contrast and tension between the glory of those who are saved (on the left of the fresco) and the horror of those who are damned (to the right). The two groups are separated by a river of fire leading down to hell.


Related site: Capernaum

In Scripture:

Jesus calls the Twelve Apostles: Luke 6:12-16

Jesus appears to seven disciples: John 21:1-14


Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Tel.: 972 (0)4 6722282

Open: No regular hours, so before visiting check with the church or the patriarchate in Jerusalem, 972 (0)2 6282048



Anonymous: The Monastery of the Twelve Apostles (Greek Orthodox Church leaflet, undated)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)




The thriving resort of Tiberias, with its balmy climate, lakeside hotels and fish restaurants, is a popular base for Christian pilgrims exploring the Galilee that Jesus knew.


Modern Tiberias (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Its location on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias in John’s Gospel) is within easy reach of the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Tabgha, Bethsaida, Chorazin, Magdala, Kursi, Cana, Mount Tabor, Nain and Nazareth.

Tiberias was a new city when Jesus began his public ministry. Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, founded it around AD 20 to replace Sepphoris as his capital.

Antipas — who would later behead Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist — chose a site just south of the present resort, taking advantage of 17 hot springs renowned since ancient times for their healing qualities. He named his new city after his patron, the emperor Tiberius Caesar.


Hot springs at Tiberias (David Q. Hall)

Because the site lay over ancient burial grounds, observant Jews refused to incur ritual impurity by living there. Antipas had to resort to compulsion and financial inducements to populate his city.

Though Jesus spent much of his ministry on and around the Sea of Tiberias, its inappropriate siting may explain why there is no record that he ever visited Tiberias.


Powerhouse of Jewish scholarship

Ritual purification of the city was carried out in the middle of the second century AD. The timing was opportune. The Second Jewish Revolt had failed, and the Romans had responded by banning Jews from Jerusalem.

Jews flocked to Tiberias, which became the major centre of Jewish culture and learning, with 13 synagogues. Even the Sanhedrin (the supreme court) moved from Sepphoris. “Preachers, poets, scholars and rabbis abounded,” wrote historian G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville.

Over the following centuries, it was this powerhouse of Jewish scholarship that compiled almost all of the Jerusalem Talmud — one of the two central texts of Jewish religious teaching and commentary that had previously been transmitted orally — and the fixed Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible.


Tomb of Maimonides (Bukvoed)

A Christian community was established in the 4th century, when Tiberias became a major destination for pilgrims visiting the Christian sites of the Galilee region.

In 1033 an earthquake destroyed Tiberias. The Crusaders rebuilt it about two kilometres further north, where the present city stands.


Rabbi’s body was carried from Egypt


St Peter in his boat, at St Peter’s Church, Tiberias (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Thanks to successive conquests, modern Tiberias has fewer monuments or ancient ruins than other localities in the Holy Land.

Historic sites include the graves of several distinguished rabbis. These include the celebrated philosopher Maimonides, leader of the Jewish community in Cairo in the 12th century. In accordance with his will, his body was carried overland on the route believed to have been taken by Moses and the Israelites to the Promised Land, for burial in Tiberias (his grave is on Ben Zakkai Street).

One of the few remaining Crusader buildings is the Church of St Peter, hidden down an alley from the lakeside promenade. Erected around 1100, this Catholic church was a mosque, a caravanserai and a stable for animals before being rebuilt in 1870 by the Franciscans.

Remains of an older church, from the 6th century, have been discovered in a commanding position on Mount Berenice, west of the city. It is called the Anchor Church, because a huge stone with a hole in its centre was found under the base of the altar.


Coins found with likeness of Jesus

South of the modern city, where steam from hot springs rises above the ground, are a national park and an archaeological park.

The highlight of the national park is a 4th-century synagogue with a spectacular mosaic floor. It was discovered in 1921 during the first major archaeological dig led by Zionist Jews in Israel.


Ark of the Torah flanked by menorah, in synagogue mosaic at Tiberias (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

In a curious mix of Jewish and pagan symbols, the Ark of the Torah is flanked by a pair of menorah, but immediately below is a Zodiac circle revolving around the figure of the pagan sun god Helios riding his celestial chariot.

The archaeological park contains the remains of the old city of Tiberias.

Excavations have uncovered part of the cardo (main street), a bathhouse, an unidentified colonnaded building, a reservoir, a tower and the south gate complex.


Bronze coin with likeness of Jesus discovered at Tiberias

A treasure trove of bronze coins was discovered in 1998, hidden in pottery jars under the floor of a building. They included 58 bearing the likeness of Jesus, with Greek inscriptions such as “Jesus the Messiah, the King of Kings”, minted in Constantinople in the 11th century.


Hammat Tiberias National Park

Tel.: 972-4-6725287

Open: Apr-Sep 8am-5pm; Oct-Mar 8am-4pm (last entry one hour before closing time)


St Peter’s Church

Tel.: 972-4-6721059

Open: 8am-12.30pm, 2.30-5.30pm



Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)
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)
Heinsch, James: “Tiberias Church of St Peter”, Holy Land, Autumn 1999.
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)


External links

Hammat Tiberias (BibleWalks)
Tiberias (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Tiberias — The Anchor Church (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)




The hilltop fortress of Machaerus, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea and 53 kilometres southwest of Amman, is recorded as the place where John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded.


Herod’s stronghold of Machaerus (© Visitjordan)

John preached a baptism of repentance at the Jordan River and foretold the coming of Jesus the Messiah, who was his cousin.

He also criticised Herod Antipas, the governor of Galilee and Perea, for unlawfully marrying his half-brother’s wife, Herodias — thereby earning her enmity.

Herod Antipas imprisoned John, but Mark’s Gospel says he protected him, “knowing that he was a righteous and holy man”, and “liked to listen to him” (6:20).

The governor’s birthday banquet for the leaders of Galilee gave Herodias her opportunity to get rid of John. Her daughter, Salome, danced for the gathering and so enthralled Herod that he offered her whatever she wanted — “even half of my kingdom” (6:23).


Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531 (The Yorke Project)

Salome, who was probably no older than 14 (so her dance might not have been the erotic performance usually imagined), sought her mother’s advice and then asked for John the Baptist’s head.

Herod, “deeply grieved”, gave the order. John was executed and his head brought in “on a platter”. John’s disciples took away his body for burial. (6:26-29)

According to the historian Josephus, John’s execution took place at Machaerus. An early Christian tradition says his body was buried at Sebastiya in Samaria, which Orthodox Christians believe was also the venue for the banquet.


Herod built ‘breathtaking’ palace

Machaerus (the name means “black fortress”) was one of a series of hilltop strongholds established by Herod the Great — the father of Antipas — along the edge of the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea.


Ruins of Herod’s palace on Machaerus (© Dan Gibson)

Protected on three sides by deep ravines, it afforded seclusion and safety in times of political unrest. Fire signals linked Machaerus to Herod’s other fortresses and to Jerusalem.

On top of the mountain, more than 1100 metres above the Dead Sea, Herod erected a fortress wall with high corner towers. In the centre he built a palace that was “breathtaking in size and beauty”, according to Josephus. Numerous cisterns were dug to collect rainwater.

When Herod the Great died in 4 BC, Machaerus passed to his son Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea (an area on the eastern side of the Jordan River) until AD 39.


Jesus appeared before Antipas

Herod Antipas had married Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas of Nabatea, the kingdom whose capital was Petra. But while visiting Rome in AD 26 he stayed with his half-brother Herod Philip I and fell in love with Philip’s wife Herodias.

When Phasaelis learnt that Antipas intended to divorce her and marry Herodias, she obtained permission to visit Machaerus and from there fled to her father in Nabatea.


Herod Antipas, by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)

Antipas’s rejection of Phasaelis added a personal note to existing disputes with King Aretas over the boundary of Perea and Nabatea. In AD 36 Aretas attacked Antipas and completely destroyed his army.

According to Josephus, some of the Jews saw this devastating defeat as divine retribution for killing John the Baptist.

Some time before the war with Aretas, Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and brought before Pontius Pilate. When Pilate learnt that Jesus came from Galilee, he sent him to Herod Antipas, who was also in Jerusalem at the time.

Luke’s Gospel says Antipas “had been wanting to see him for a long time” and “was hoping to see him perform some sign”. He questioned Jesus at length, but Jesus gave no answer. Antipas then mocked Jesus and sent him back to Pilate in an elegant robe. (23:8-11)

Romans captured fortress by deception

In AD 39 Herod Antipas was accused of conspiring against the Roman emperor Caligula, who exiled him to Gaul.

At the time of the First Jewish Revolt (AD 66-73), Machaerus was in the hands of Jewish rebels. Roman forces took the fortress only by deception — they captured a young Jewish defender and threatened to crucify him if the rebels did not surrender.


Columns from Herod’s palace on Machaerus (© Dan Gibson)

When the rebels agreed to abandon Machaerus, the Romans systematically dismantled the Herodian fortifications.

Excavations at the site have uncovered remains of Herod’s palace, including rooms designed around a central courtyard, an elaborate bath and floor mosaics.

Work on partially reconstructing the throne room where Salome is said to have danced was begun by archaeologists in 2020.

Below the hilltop ruins on the eastern side is the village of Mukawir, where excavations have found evidence of three Byzantine churches built in the 6th century.


In Scripture

Herod Antipas executes John the Baptist: Mark 6:14-29; Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 3:18-20

Jesus appears before Herod Antipas: Luke 23:8-11



Bohstrom, Philippe: “King Herod’s Throne Room Where ‘Salome Danced’ Found in Jordan”, Haaretz, December 14, 2020
Brisco, Thomas: Holman Bible Atlas (Broadman and Holman, 1998)
Cox, Ronald: The Gospel Story (CYM Publications, 1950)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Maier, Paul L. (trans.): Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel Publications, 1988)
Meyers, Carol L., Craven, Toni, and Kraemer, Ross S. (eds): Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books and New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)


External links

Machaerus: Beyond the Beheading of John the Baptist (Biblical Archaeology Society)
Mukawir Fortress (Nabataea.net)
Where Saint John the Baptist was Beheaded (Hungarian Review)
Lost biblical fortress of Machaerus restored after 50 years of excavations (Jordan Times)





Sepphoris with Nazareth on hill in distance (Steve Peterson)

Sepphoris, a ruined city 6.5 kilometres northwest of Nazareth, was the capital of Galilee during the time of Jesus. Though it is not mentioned in the New Testament, it is of interest to Christian pilgrims for two main reasons:

•  The rebuilding of the city by Galilee’s ruler, Herod Antipas, may have attracted the building tradesman Joseph and his wife Mary to settle in Nazareth when they returned with Jesus from Egypt.

This major building site, 50 minutes’ walk from Nazareth, would have offered Joseph many years of employment. It may also be where Jesus gained insights into the building trade — such as the need to build with foundations on rock rather than on sand (Luke 6:48-49).

•  According to tradition, the original home of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne (or Anna), was at Sepphoris. During the 12th century the Crusaders built a huge Church of St Anna, possibly on the site of their home.

Sepphoris rose to prominence during the century before Christ because it overlooked two major highways. A mainly Jewish city, it was given its Hebrew name, Zippori, because it sits on a hilltop like a bird (zippor).

According to the historian Josephus, Herod Antipas made it “the ornament of Galilee”, a term also implying the military connotation of an impregnable city.


Pilgrims on Decumanus street at Sepphoris (Seetheholyland.net)

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, Sepphoris became a centre of Jewish learning and seat of the Sanhedrin supreme court. The Mishnah, the first authoritative collection of Jewish oral law, was compiled here.

A Christian community was present by the 4th century. By the 6th century it was sufficiently large to have its own bishop.

It was from Sepphoris that the Crusaders rode out in 1187 for their defeat by the Muslim sultan Saladin at the Horns of Hattin, overlooking the Sea of Galilee — a defeat that brought about the end of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.


Many changes of name

Sepphoris has worn many names during its history.

It was Zippori (or Tzippori) when Herod the Great captured it during a snowstorm in 37 BC. After Herod’s death in 4 BC the Roman army put down a rebellion of Jewish rebels by destroying the city and selling many of its people into slavery.

When Herod’s son Herod Antipas rebuilt the city, he renamed it Autocratoris.

Because the inhabitants chose not to join the First Jewish Revolt against Rome in AD 66-73, the city was spared the destruction suffered by other Jewish centres, including Jerusalem. Evidence of the city’s pacifist stance comes from coins inscribed “City of Peace” minted there during the revolt.

Before the Second Jewish Revolt in 132-135, the Romans changed the name to Diocaesarea. A massive earthquake in 363 devastated the city and it was only partly rebuilt.

The Muslim conquest in the 7th century saw another name change, to Saffuriya. Except for a period as La Sephorie under the Crusaders, this name remained for what became an Arab village until the population of about 4000 fled attacks by Israeli forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.


Three apses of church still stand

Excavations at Sepphoris have uncovered streets, houses, public buildings, bathhouses, a market, two churches, a synagogue, a Roman theatre, aqueducts, a huge elongated water reservoir (260 metres long) and more than 40 mosaic floors.


Crusader fortress overlooking Sepphoris (© Ori~ / Wikimedia)

A Crusader fortress, built on the remains of an earlier structure, dominates the upper part of the site and provides a panoramic view from its roof. It now houses a museum.

To the west of the summit, on the northwestern perimeter of Sepphoris National Park, are the remains of the Crusader Church of St Anna. Inside a walled enclosure, the three apses are still standing, now incorporated into the western wall of a modern Monastery of the Sisters of St Anne (where the key to the enclosure is available).

Northeast of the fortress is the Roman theatre, its tiers of 4500 seats carved into the northern slope of the hill.


Remains of Church of St Anna at Sepphoris (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Biblical scholars have conjured with the possibility that Jesus might have known this theatre and even taken from it the word “hypocrite” — Greek for one who is play-acting — which he frequently used (in Matthew 6, for example). But archaeologists are uncertain whether the theatre was in use when Jesus lived in Nazareth.

On the northern edge of the park are remains of a 6th-century synagogue with a mosaic floor depicting biblical scenes, Temple rituals and a zodiac wheel.


Mosaic portrait dubbed “Mona Lisa”

Just south of the Roman theatre stood a palatial mansion built in the 3rd century AD. Known as the Dionysus House, it was destroyed by the earthquake in 363, but the remarkable mosaic carpet in its stately dining room survived well-preserved under the debris.

The 15 centre panels depict scenes from the life of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, bordered by medallions of acanthus leaves with hunting scenes.


“Mona Lisa of the Galilee” in Roman mansion at Sepphoris (Seetheholyland.net)

Each scene is labelled with a Greek word — a panel displaying a completely inebriated Hercules is labelled MEQH, meaning drunkenness.

But the most remarkable feature of the mosaic floor is an elegant portrait of an unknown woman at the centre of one end. The engaging tilt of her head and enigmatic expression have earned her the nickname “Mona Lisa of the Galilee”.

The unknown artist of this portrait used tiny stones, in a wide range of natural colours, and with an exquisite attention to detail and shading.


Elegant mosaics illustrate life on River Nile

An impressive network of well-planned streets has been exposed in the lower city. Two major intersecting streets, the north-south Cardo and the east-west Decumanus, had covered footpaths and shops on both sides.

East of the Cardo, a large building called the Nile House had some 20 rooms decorated with multi-coloured mosaic floors. The most elegant depict scenes associated with the River Nile in Egypt.


Nilometer and river scenes in Sepphoris mosaic (Seetheholyland.net)

In the most impressive mosaic, the river flows through the picture and wildlife such as fish and birds are seen along its banks. On the left a reclining female figure with a basket of harvest fruits personifies Egypt; on the right a male figure represents the Nile.

In the centre a man standing on a woman’s back records 17 cubits (about 8 metres) on a nilometer — a pillar with a scale to measure the height of the Nile during its seasonal flood.

The lower portion shows hunting scenes: A fierce lion pouncing on the back of a bull, a panther leaping on a gazelle, and a boar being attacked by a bear.

Other mosaics in the building include a depiction of Amazon warriors hunting from horseback.


Administered by: Israel National Parks Authority

Tel.: 04-656-8272

Open: 8am-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar) with last entry one hour earlier; closes at 3pm on Fridays and eves of Jewish holidays.




Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Chancey, Mark, and Meyers, Eric M.: “Spotlight on Sepphoris: How Jewish was Sepphoris in Jesus’ Time?”, Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2000
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Charlesworth, James H.: Jesus and Archaeology (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Losch, Richard R.: The Uttermost Part of the Earth: A guide to places in the Bible (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Weiss, Ze’ev. “The Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2000
Weiss, Ze’ev, and Tsuk, Tsvika: Zippori National Park (Israel Nature and Parks Authority leaflet)

External links

Sepphoris (BibleWalks)
Sepphoris (BiblePlaces)
Sepphoris (The Bible and Interpretation)
The USF Excavations at Sepphoris (CenturyOne Foundation)
Zippori — “The Ornament of All Galilee” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)



Church of the Annunciation

Church of St Joseph

Mary’s Well and Church of St Gabriel

First-century houses

Nazareth Village

Church of the Synagogue

Church of the Nutrition

Mount Precipice

Franciscan Museum

Church of Jesus the Adolescent


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.


Modern Nazareth (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

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


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 Nof HaGalil (formerly 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


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 houses

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 now-closed Mary of Nazareth International Center, next to the Church of the Annunciation. The remains were conserved and displayed in that building.

In 2015 the remains of a first-century domestic 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. Byzantine and Crusader churches had been built on the site.

This house has been given the name of the Church of the Nutrition, meaning “the church of the upbringing of Christ”.


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.


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.

Church of the Nutrition: Only around 100 metres from the Church of the Annunciation and 200 metres from the Church of St Joseph is a lesser-known site that may include the remains of Jesus’ childhood home.

Archaeological research in 2006-10 indicated that an underground complex beneath the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth in 6166 Street may be the location of the long-lost Byzantine-era Church of the Nutrition, believed to have been built over the house of Mary and Joseph, and where Jesus was nurtured.

Visits are by appointment (tel.: 972-4-6554304).

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.


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



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



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 (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Nazareth (Wikipedia)
Nazareth (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Nazareth (Nazareth Cultural & Tourism Association)
St Gabriel Church (BibleWalks)
Mount Precipice (BibleWalks)

Jesus Boat


Jesus Boat

Model of Jesus Boat (Seetheholyland.net)

The Sea of Galilee yielded an unexpected catch in 1986 — the hull of a fishing boat old enough to have been on the water in the time of Jesus and his disciples.

The remains of the so-called Jesus Boat were found in the muddy lakebed (the Sea of Galilee is actually a freshwater inland lake) during a time of severe drought.

The remains were 8.3 metres (27 feet) long, 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) wide and 1.3 metres (4.3 feet) high. This size would have enabled it to carry up to 15 people.

Extracting it safely presented a huge challenge to excavators. Conservation of its waterlogged timbers then took 11 years.

In 2000 the vessel — officially known as “The Ancient Galilee Boat” — went on permanent display in the Yigal Allon Museum at Kibbutz Ginosar, near where it was discovered.


The type of boat Jesus used

Jesus Boat

Front-end view of Jesus Boat (Seetheholyland.net)

Boats such as this are mentioned more than 50 times in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, but there is no evidence to link this particular boat to Jesus or his disciples.

However, radio carbon dating has established that the Jesus Boat began life as a fishing vessel between 120 BC and AD 40, a period that could encompass the time that Jesus spent on the Sea of Galilee.

Shelley Wachsmann, who as the Israel Department of Antiquities inspector of underwater antiquities was intimately involved in the excavation, says: “It does seem that the boat fits this time range and is of the type that would have been used by Jesus and his disciples.”


Found near Mary Magdalene’s home town

Two fishermen brothers, Moshe and Yuval Lufan, both keen amateur archaeologists, stumbled across the oval outline of the buried boat. It was on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee, about 1.5km north of Migdal, the home of Mary Magdalene.

Jesus Boat

Yuval Lufan, one of the brothers who found the Jesus Boat (Seetheholyland.net)

The method of construction identified it as typical of ancient boats in the Mediterranean region. The planks of the hull were edge-joined with mortise-and-tenon joints held in place with wooden pegs.

The Jesus Boat had a rounded stern and a fine bow. Both the fore and aft sections were probably decked in, although the preserved remains did not reach this height.

Besides cedar planking and oak frames, five other woods were used: Aleppo pine, sidar, hawthorn, willow and redbud.

Evidence of repeated repairs showed the boat had been used for several decades, perhaps nearly a century.

When its fishermen owners thought it was beyond repair, they removed all useful wooden parts, including the mast, stempost and sternpost — just as components of an old car might be removed today for spare parts. Then they pushed it out into the lake, where it sank in the silt.


Excavation took 11 days

Twelve wood types found in the Jesus Boat (Seetheholyland.net)

Twelve wood types found in the Jesus Boat (Seetheholyland.net)

Media hype following the discovery forced archaeologists to attempt an immediate excavation. While the Ministry of Tourism was promoting the “Jesus connection” in the hope of attracting pilgrims, ultra-Orthodox Jews in nearby Tiberias were demonstrating against the prospect of a boost to Christian missionary endeavours.

Because rains had begun, a massive dike had to be built around the site to protect it from the rising lake level.

The waterlogged timbers had the consistency of wet cardboard. Because evaporation would cause them to collapse, the boat had to be sprayed with water day and night and shaded from direct sunlight.

Then, working around the clock for 11 days, excavators and volunteers released the Jesus Boat from its muddy surroundings and encased it in a polyurethane foam “straitjacket” to hold it together.

In Shelley Wachsmann’s words, the boat looked “somewhat like an overgrown, melted marshmellow” when it was floated to the shore and lifted by crane into a conservation pool.

The 11-year conservation process included replacing the water in the wood cells with a synthetic wax that penetrated the cellular cavities of the deteriorated timber.

Full-size replica installed in the Vatican Museums (Vatican Museums)

Full-size replica installed in the Vatican Museums (Vatican Museums)

In September 2023 a full-size replica of the boat was installed in the Vatican Museums “Way of the Sea” permanent exhibition.


In Scripture:

Jesus stills the storm: Mark 4:35-41

Jesus tells parables from a boat: Matthew 13:1-9

The miraculous catch of fish: Luke 5:1-11


Administered by: Yigal Allon Museum, Kibbutz Ginosar

Tel.: 972-4-9119585

Open: Sat-Thur 8am-5pm, Fri 8am-4pm




Wachsmann, Shelley: “The Galilee Boat—2,000-Year-Old Hull Recovered Intact”, in The Galilee Jesus Knew (Biblical Archaeology Society, 2008)


External links

The Galilee Boat
Sea of Galilee Boat (Wikipedia)
“Peter’s Boat” docks in the Pope’s Museums (Vatican Museums)
All content © 2022, See the Holy Land | Site by Ravlich Consulting & Mustard Seed
You are welcome to promote site content and images through your own
website or blog, but please refer to our Terms of Service | Login