PLACES TO VISIT IN NAZARETH
The massive two-story Church of the Annunciation, in strikingly modern architectural style and colorfully decorated, is the largest Christian church in the Middle East. Its cupola, surmounted by a lantern symbolizing 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 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).
The three decades Jesus spent in Nazareth are commonly called the “silent years.” Over the centuries, Christians have sought sites in Nazareth to commemorate events from Jesus’ life. Mensa Christi, Latin for “Table of Christ” contains a slab of chalk that, according to tradition, was the rock on which Jesus dined with the disciples after his resurrection. The Franciscans initially built a chapel at this site in the latter half of the 18th century. The current church, a renovation of the earlier chapel, was completed in 1861. The Israeli government, in a joint project with the local municipality, recently completed a renovation and restoration of the old city of Nazareth as part of the Millennium celebrations of the year 2000. A part of this project was the restoration of the church’s frescoes and dome.
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). Stairs lead down to a crypt, where a square basin is 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.