The church is located in the center of town, and is built where it’s believed was the house of Joseph and Mary. On the lower level is Mary’s cave, the cave in which, according to tradition, Mary was visited by Archangel Gabriel and told that she was destined to give birth to Jesus. The first church was built in 427 A.D, and a few others were built and destroyed since. The current building was established in 1969, and there are still remains of the previous churches. It is one of the biggest, most impressive churches in the Middle East. The Basilica is 59.5 Meters high and displays a multitude of colorful mosaics pictures of the Holy Family. The mosaics were made by Christian communities from all over the world, and every art work reflects the national character of the country that sent it. I was able to only photograph a few since to capture them all would have taken an entire afternoon!
The first church was established during the Byzantine times, probably around the year of 427. It was built by Jerusalem’s Deacon who was called Conon, as can be learned from the writing “Conon” on the mosaic floor, close to the cave. During this time in our history, there were only 3 positions in the Christian clergy which were deacon, priest and bishop. The church was built as a large central hall, and it had a small monastery to the south. There were a few steps leading to the holy cave that was almost completely separated from the church itself. The church was in use for about 700 years, but after Palestine/Israel was conquered by the Muslims in 638, the Muslims demanded large payments from the Christians in order to permit the churches’ existence. Nevertheless, its condition worsened and by the time the Crusaders arrived, they found the church completely destroyed. Tancred, a Norman leader of the first Crusade who later became the Prince of Galilee, rebuilt the church and established a marvelous, impressively large Basilica. The remains of this Basilica are integrated now into the new church which was built over Tancred’s church. At the time the new church was built, the site of Annunciation was brought inside the church where stairs led directly to it. A small altar was built above and its remains exist today. The crusader era church was destroyed in 1263 by Muslim rulers and underwent a long history of tug-of-war between the Muslims and the Franciscan Monks who sought to preserve it. The present day church was established in 1969. It has two stories and it seeks to preserve not only the holy cave but also the remains of the previous churches. The cave is located in the center of the lower floor, as are the remains of previous churches.
Being inside of this church was powerful and moving. It is immense and it contains layer upon layer of Christian history. No one can say for sure that this is the site of the annunciation, but that significance kind of pales in comparison to the certainty of the struggle to preserve as much of our Christian heritage as possible amidst overwhelming odds. I went to the Holy Land expecting to be moved by the locations themselves, but that was hard since the locations were uncertain and were in fact claimed by more than one site. What I did find moving however was the history behind the uncertain sites and the lives that were sacrificed in order to preserve them. After two terms of church history I was finally able to put some of it into perspective and visit some of the places that it actually took place. There was no denying that the history of my faith took place in these locations, even if the locations of actual biblical events was disputed.
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|Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth|