The Basilica Of The Annunciation
The Basilica of the Annunciation in the city of Nazareth, Israel, is a completely modern Catholic Church. This Catholic Church was built over the ruins of both the Byzantine and crusader churches. It includes the original cave in which the Virgin Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel. Here she received the news that she, a virgin, would give birth to Jesus. The announcement of the Incarnation by the angel Gabriel to Mary is documented for us in the New Testament Book of Luke.
"And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."
Luke also records her answer in the same book: "“Let it be done to me according to your word.”
Little is known about the early history of Nazareth. The historian Eusebius tells us that Nazareth was a small village during the Roman and Byzantine period of history. The historian Africanus shares about some of the early Jewish converts to Christianity in Nazareth during the third century. His writings also talk about the first known pilgrimage to Nazareth in the latter part of the fourth century. Another book which also adds credence to the annunciation is the Quran. The book of Sura in the Quran also gives an account of the annunciation.
Inside The Basilica Of The Annunciation there is a cave below the current church. The cave was enshrined no latter than the fourth century. It is simple and beautiful! There is no knowledge about the first church to be built on the site. Most Catholic historians agree that one was most likely there by the early part of the fourth century. Early church writings talk about an altar on the site in 384 AD. It is not known if this was at the cave or if there was already a church built on the site. The first mention of a church in the early church writings is in the year 570 AD. Regardless of whether a chapel existed or a church, for sure the Annunciation was honored in early church times.
There was a Byzantine church on at this site that is known to have survived into the latter part of the ninth century. In the writings of 12 monks in the year 808 the church was still standing. In the year of 680 a pilgrim named Arculf recorded two churches in Nazareth. One at Mary's spring, and one on the current site of The Basilica of The Annunciation. The history is a little sketchy about these early years, but for sure we know that there were early churches on the site where the Basilica of the Annunciation stands today.
We do know a little more about the Crusader church built on the current site of the Basilica of the Annunciation. It was much larger than the little Byzantine church. The Crusaders spent a lot of money on the decorating of this Church. The house of Mary was well covered by the Crusader Church. The Crusaders ordered majestic capitals carved by French wood-carvers. Each capital had a scene taken from the lives of the Apostles. Also on the site were monastery buildings. On the north side of the church was a bishop's palace. There are many writings about the Crusader church. This was indeed a magnificent architectural wonder.
The Basilica of the Annunciation is a very ornate church. It is an extremely beautiful building. It is one of the most amazing churches in the Middle East. There is an ornately carved triple-doorway which has scenes from the early life of the Holy family. Carved in Latin above the triple-doorway entrance are the words: "Haec est porta vitae aeternae," Translated it reads; "This is the gate to eternal life." This two story Basilica of the Annunciation was built in a modern architectural design. The sanctuary is extremely colorful. The stained glass windows throughout show different stages of the life of Jesus and his parents. The Basilica of the Annunciation was completed in the year of 1969. It is the largest Christian church in the entire Middle East. It is also one of the most beautiful!
The Basilica of the Annunciation is actually two churches. There is the one you visit on the lower floor. It centers on the grotto or cave where the annunciation is believed to have taken place. There are visible remains of the Byzantine and Crusader Churches. There is also a parish church on the upper floor for the local Catholic Community of Nazareth. The large upper church has mosaics of the Virgin from all over the world. These mosaics are spectacular! Each are hand done. They were each donated from the country of origin.
On top of one part of the Basilica of the Annunciation is a beautiful cupola. Within the cupola is a large and beautiful lantern. The lantern is a symbol to all. It is telling the world that Jesus is the light of the world. This fantastic cupola is a dominating influence on modern day Nazareth. It is always shinning on special occasions and during festivals.
The Basilica of the Annunciation has a unique concrete dome on the top of another section of the building. It is in the shape of a Madonna lily. The Madonna lily is one of the symbols for the Virgin Mary. Also you will often see bouquets of Madonna lilies placed around the church to honor the Virgin.
This is indeed one of the fabulous sights that you will see in your Nazareth Adventure. The city of Nazareth has many splendid sights to see. The Basilica of The Annunciation should be on the top of every visitors list of places to explore.