This month’s feast of the Annunciation will be celebrated very solemnly in Nazareth. On the site of a Judeo-Christian synagogue (third century), a Byzantine basilica (fifth century), and a Crusader church (13th century), the Franciscans built a modest church in 1730. They had acquired the Grotto of the Annunciation 110 years earlier.
The current basilica, which also serves as the parish church, began in 1955 and was dedicated in 1969. Remains of the Crusader church are visible on the lower level. Scratched in Greek into a nearby stone is Gabriel’s greeting (“Hail, Mary”)—perhaps the world’s oldest prayer to Mary.
Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Galilee. The friars, who arrived in 1347, minister in the parish, staff a cultural institute, offer social assistance, conduct retreats, and assist in the parish school. In the upper church and its courtyard are key Marian images from many countries; a few of them appear in my March 2000 cover story at StAnthonyMessenger.org. The friars also serve at the nearby church built over the reputed site of St. Joseph’s workshop.
Nazareth has welcomed Popes Paul VI (1964), John Paul II (2000), and Benedict XVI (2009). Pope Francis is not scheduled to visit there this May. A virtual tour of the basilica can be accessed at Nazareth-en.custodia.org.
May we all respond to God as generously as Mary did!