In or around the last decade before the Common Era, the city of Caesarea Philippi was commissioned by Philip the Tetrarch, a son of Herod the Great. The site already had a long history as a religious sanctuary. For over two centuries it had been known as Paneas, a major sanctuary for the Greek god Pan. The modern Arabic name Banias derives from the Greek Paneas. Before the Hellenistic period, the area was sacred to the Canaanite god Baal. Sheltered in the foothills of Mt. Hermon, the region’s highest mountain, with abundant water and a lush, garden setting, it does feel like hallowed ground. Continue reading
After leaving his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus made Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the center of his ministry. The Gospels tell many stories of Jesus teaching and healing there.
Today, you can see the remains of a 4th-century synagogue, which stands on top of an earlier synagogue that is likely the one where Jesus preached. The remains of Peter’s House and the 5th-century church built around it can be viewed through the glass floor of the modern church built over the site. The tradition that the house belonged to Peter (the disciple of Jesus also known as Simon) goes back to the middle of the 1st century.
As long as humans have found transcendent meaning in earthly places, they have made special journeys to those places. Traditionally, a pilgrimage is an act of religious devotion, but lately the word is used to describe a trip to any place that is especially inspiring to the traveler. Continue reading
In the first century, Nazareth was an out-of-the-way farming village of fewer than 500 residents. Today it is a metropolitan area of over 200,000, of which about 60% are Israeli Arab (both Christian and Muslim) and about 40% are Israeli Jews. It’s located in the heart of the Galilee region in northern Israel.
Nazareth was Mary’s hometown and it was there the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38).
She was instructed to name the child Jesus, which means “God saves” in Hebrew.
Jesus spent most of his life in Nazareth, until he began his ministry at age 30 and moved to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.
Things to see in Nazareth:
In the Byzantine era, the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation was built on the site believed to be the home of Mary and Joseph. The modern church, completed in 1969, stands upon and incorporates remains of Byzantine and Crusader era churches, and is the largest church in the Middle East. A cave in the lower level is tradionally believed to be the spot where Gabriel appeared to Mary. This church can be seen from miles away. Beautiful mosaics of Mary from many countries are displayed throughout the building.
The International Mary of Nazareth Center is a short walk from the Basilica of the Annunciation.
Also in the same area is St. Joseph’s Church, built over the traditional site of Joseph’s carpentry workshop, sometimes called Joseph’s Grotto.
According to Greek Orthodox tradition, the Annunciation took place at a spring frequented by Mary. Another church has stood on that site, right over the spring, since Byzantine times – the Church of St. Gabriel. Mary’s Well is nearby.
A little way out of town, about 1 1/2 miles, is Mt. Precipice. According to Luke 4:29-30, this is where the people of Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus off the mountain after a sermon in which he suggested that he was the fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah.
In the undeveloped fields outside of the city, Nazareth Village is a restored 1st-century farm and re-created village, where visitors can observe and participate in the local way of life of 2,000 years ago.
After the Annunciation came the Visitation (Luke 1:39–56). Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Surely she (Mary), the unmarried, pregnant virgin, probably no more than 13 years old, was in need of some sisterly support. When Mary approached, Elizabeth’s baby leapt in her womb and she knew Mary was blessed and that this was no ordinary visit. Mary then expressed her own wonder and surrender in words that came to be known as the Magnificat, one of the oldest Christian hymns. Crank it!
Magnificat text, Luke 1:46-55:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Click to see tours to Nazareth.
Happy Friday. Some random shots of Ya’lla travelers: