Biblical wisdom is timeless, but it is often expressed in the activities and settings of very particular times and places. In the northern Galilee region of our mystery country, Nazareth Village provides visitors with living context for some familiar ancient stories.
Visitors observe and participate in daily chores performed in the manner of 1st-century Galilean villagers. Tending animals and crops, pressing olive oil, baking bread… The village buildings and methods of farming and household tasks are based on scholarly research and archaeological evidence.
Nazareth, Israel with the Church of the Annunciation on the right, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism
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:
Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel, photo by Mordagan, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism
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.
St. Gabriel Church, Nazareth, Israel, photo by Mordagan, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism
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.”