The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth is a modern Catholic church built over the remains of Byzantine and Crusader churches. It incorporates the cave in which the Virgin Mary received the news from Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus. The site has been a pilgrimage destination since earliest times and remains an important stop for Holy Land pilgrims today.
History of Basilica of the Annunciation
Early sources on Nazareth's history are scarce, but Eusebius says Nazareth was a small Jewish town in the Roman and Byzantine periods. Evidence of Jewish converts to Christianity in Nazareth is provided by the historian Africanus in the 3rd century and pilgrimage to Nazareth is first attested in the late 4th century.
The cave that is enshrined inside the basilica was identified no later than the 4th century as the place of the Annunciation. It is not known when the first church was built here, but one probably existed by the early 4th century. An altar is referred to in c.384 AD and a church is mentioned by c.570 AD.
A Byzantine church has been excavated beneath the current church, which dates from the 4th or 5th century. It had three aisles, a single projecting apse and a large atrium. A small monastery was built south of the church. Inc.680, the pilgrim Arculf recorded seeing two churches in Nazareth, one at Mary's spring and the other on the traditional site of the Annunciation, where the basilica stands today.
The Byzantine church on the site of the Annunciation survived as late as the 9th century, when 12 monks associated with the church are mentioned in the Commemoratorium of 808 AD. The church was apparently destroyed before or during the Crusades; the Abbot Daniel recorded in 1106-08 that it had been laid waste but thoroughly rebuilt by Tancred and the Franks.
The Crusader church was larger than the Byzantine church over which it was built. The church had three aisles and six bays, probably with a crossing covered by a dome fronting three apses. An edicule in the north aisle covered the House of Mary on a lower level. Much money and effort was put into the decoration of the Crusader church, which included magnificent capitals carved with scenes from the lives of the Apostles by French craftsmen. There were monastery buildings on the south side and a bishop's palace on the north side.
After the Battle of the Horns of Hattin in 1187, the Christian inhabitants of Nazareth took refuge in the church but were slaughtered. The church was thereby profaned, but it was left standing. In 1192, Salah al-Din allowed a few clergy to return and granted Christian access to the shrine. St. Louis made a pilgrimage here in 1251.
However, in 1263, an emir of Baybars attacked Nazareth and razed the church to the ground. Pilgrims were still allowed to visit the grotto (which was venerated also by Muslims), but in 1283 Christians were explicitly forbidden to rebuild the church. By the 14th century, pilgrims were charged an entrance fee by the Muslims guarding the grotto. The site of the church was filled with garbage and was later used for stabling cattle.
The Franciscans established a monastery in Nazareth in the 14th century and appear to have gained control of the holy site for a period in the mid-16th century. They restored and occupied the former bishop's palace and began to repair the church in 1620. However, they were expelled several times throughout the 1600s. In 1730 the Franciscans finally completed a new church, which was enlarged in 1871.
The Franciscan church was demolished in 1955 for the construction of the present church, which was built over the Crusader and Byzantine foundations. It was consecrated in 1969. Today, the Basilica of the Annunciation is the parish church for 7,000 Catholic Christians in Nazareth and the focal point of Catholic and Protestant pilgrimages.
What to See at Basilica of the Annunciation
The modern Church of the Annunciation is topped with a uniquely-shaped concrete dome 55 meters high. Its shape is based on the Madonna lily, a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Inside, the basilica consists of an upper church and a lower church. The vast upper church is decorated with mosaics of the Virgin donated by communities from around the world.
The lower church centers on the Grotto or Cave of the Annunciation, where the angelic announcement to Mary is believed to have occurred. Also visible down here are remains of the Byzantine and Crusader churches that preceded the present one.
Quick Facts on Basilica of the Annunciation
|Names:||Basilica of the Annunciation · Church of the Annunciation|
|Categories:||basilicas; churches; biblical sites; pilgrimage churches; New Testament|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||32.701977° N, 35.297737° E|
|Hours:||Daily 8:00-11:45am and 2-6pm (5pm in winter) |
Sunday and feast days: 2 pm-5:30pm (4:30pm in winter)
|Lodging:||View hotels near Basilica of the Annunciation|
- Kay Prag, Blue Guide Israel & the Palestinian Territories, 1st ed. (2002), 344-45.
- Religious Sights of Interest to Christians - Nazareth Cultural & Tourism Association
Map of Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth
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