The Church of St. Gabriel is the Orthodox counterpart to the Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. According to Orthodox tradition, the Virgin Mary first received the news from Gabriel that she would bear the Savior while she was out fetching water. The Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel is therefore located over the spring that fed Mary's Well, the traditional place where Mary fetched water for her household.
History of the Church of St. Gabriel
Although not recorded in the Bible, the tradition of Mary receiving the Annunciation while fetching water is ancient. It is written down in the 2nd-century Christian text known as the Protevangelium of James, which fills out the biblical story of Mary and the birth of Jesus with more details.
The Protevangelium (or Proto-Gospel of James) says that Mary was one of seven unblemished virgins from the line of David chosen to weave a new curtain for the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. She was working on this task in her Nazareth home when she went out to fetch some water from the city well.
The biblical account in Luke 1:26-38 only says that "God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth" and that "the angel went to her." It does not record the place of the Annunciation or what Mary was doing at the time.
The Church of St. Gabriel is built over "Mary's Spring," a natural spring that feeds the nearby ancient well known as Mary's Well. There may have been a Byzantine church here by the 6th or 7th century, but the first certain mention of it is by Abbot Daniel in 1106-08.
St. Gabriel's Church was probably always an Orthodox church, but there is some historical uncertainty about what happened during the Crusades - a few years following the conquest, Crusader sources mention a Latin priory of St. Gabriel.
From the 14th century, the church fell into increasingly bad repair, but there was always access to the chapel containing the sacred spring. The site was owned by the Franciscans and Greek Catholics for some time, but in 1741 the Greek Orthodox community gained permission from Dahir al-Umar to take over the site.
In 1750, the Orthodox community built the present church on the south side of the chapel with the spring. The wooden iconostasis was added in 1767.
What to See at the Church of St. Gabriel
The upper church has a fine wooden iconostasis, with delicate carvings and painted icons.
From the north aisle of the 18th-century church, seven steps descend to the lower chapel of the spring. Here a narrow single aisle, sometimes crowded with pilgrims, is roofed by a barrel vault and lined with blind arcades decorated with colored marble and glazed ceramic from c.1750.
At the north end of the chapel, Mary's Spring runs beneath an altar and can be peered down into. The round stone well has a lamp hanging over it and many icons of Mary have been set up around its rim.
According to a 17th-century account (the Quaresmi), a now-blocked stair on the right originally led up to convent of nuns and there was an altar in the east wall (now covered with arcades). The remains of a Byzantine bath house have recently been uncovered in the area and can be seen in a nearby cafe.
Quick Facts on the Church of St. Gabriel
|Names:||Church of St. Gabriel|
|Categories:||churches; biblical sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||32.707057° N, 35.301587° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Church of St. Gabriel|
- Kay Prag, Blue Guide Israel & the Palestinian Territories, 1st ed. (2002), 346-47.
- Mary's Well and The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel - Near East Tourist Agency
- St. Gabriel Church - Biblewalks
- The Protevangelium of James
- Photos of the Church of St. Gabriel - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Church of St. Gabriel, Nazareth
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Church of St. Gabriel. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.