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Nazareth: during the centuries

As the first christians kept alive the tradition and localisation of the "holy" sites of Nazareth, we cannot but register the litrerary sources that were handed over to us with a clear indication of the veneration with which they were kept during the centuries. The Lord's "brethren" (Acts 1,14; 1Cor 9,5) had a prominent place in the primitive palestinian church. James, the Lord's "brother" headed the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 21,18) as is witnessed also by the writings of Josephus Flavius (Jewish Antiquities 20, 197-203). Even the judeo-christian historian Egesippus (late second century) gives witness to these next-of-kin of the Lord when speaking about a persecution of the Christians by Emperor Domiziano (81-96 AD) and whose writings are quoted by Eusebius (IV cent. AD) in his History of the Church (III,19.20,1-6). Jiulius the African (250 AD) mentions how the descendents of Jesus were jealous in keeping alive the memory of their forefathers (a passage quoted by Eusebius in his History of the Church I,7,13-14). During the persecution in Asia Minor of Emperor Decius (249-251) a christian maryr, Conon, is brought to trial and he proclaims in judgement: "I am from Nazareth of Galilee, I am descendent of Christ to whom I give worship since my forefathers". The Apochryphal writings too expand this vision about the next-of-kin of the Lord. They gather the oral traditions of the first Church about Jesus' family, especially his childhood years, Mary's and Joseph's daily life with Jesus amongst them.

It is because of Nazareth that "Christ is called the Nazarean and from which, we who today are called Christians, were called Nazareens" (Eusebius of Caesaria, early IV cent. AD).


The remains of the byzantine and pre-byzantine period
around the Holy Site incorporated today in the new basilica


In pilgrimage to the site came Paola and Eustochio accompanied by Jerome. This indicates that the town is already a pilgrimage site in the writings of St. Jerome (end of IV cent. AD) who writes to the roman matron Marcella "we will go to Nazareth and see the flower of Galilee, as its name implies". In 570 the Anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza and later Arculf (after the arab occupation of 638 AD) visited the town. Arculf writes to Adamanno that at Nazareth he saw two churches, one of the Annunciation and the other of the Nutrition. In 724-26, when Wilhebald visited the town only the visitation church was vivible the same church which was seen by the Arab visitor Al Mas'udi in 943.

The arrival of the Crusaders meant an era of splendour for Nazareth. The english vvisitor Sewulf in 1102 writes that "the city of Nazareth s completely raised to the ground except the place of the annunciation wherer there is a nice monastery". The crusaders rebuilt a magnificent church in Roman style with 3 naves, from the northern one of which one descended to a small grotto in which was venerated the record of the Annunciation and the sojourn of the Holy Family. Nazareth became also a bishopric seat and Tancred made sure to adorn this churhc with magnificent gifts witnesses of which are found in the descriptions of the pilgrims of the era. On the 4 of July 1187, the day of the battle of Hattin, Nazareth was taken, its population killed or imprisoned, and the sanctuary "renowned in all the world" profaned. All this is recounted by the eyewitness Raul of Coggeshall. Later on permission was granted to pilgrims who wanted to visit the shrine and on the 24 of March 1251 St. Louis IX, king of France, partecipated in a mass which his chaplain celebrate for hi in the Annunciation Grotto. In 1263 the magnificent churhc of the Crusaders was sistematically destroyed on the explicit order of Baybars, as recounted by Abu el-Feda in his annals. Nazareth became o ghost town and adventerous pilgrims succeeded to arrive at the site give witness to a small chapel to protect the Annunciation grotto "in memory to the humility and poverty" as the dominican friar Ricoldo di Monte Croce writes in 1294. For four hundred years nthing changed at this site. The only notable change was the permission granted to the franciscans to go in pilgrimage to the shrine.


The Holy Grotto of the Annunciation:
a site venerated uniterruptedly by the Christians

holy grotto

Large image - 198KB


The site was acquired by the Franciscans in 1620 through the favour of druse emir Fakr ed-Din thanks to the initiative of ther then Custos of the Holy Land Fr Tommaso Obicini. A community was installed there to keep guard over the venerable ruins and it became a place of continuous struggle and heroic sacrifices. The turks saw it a source of income and made life for the friars miserable. Suffice to mention the franciscan chronicle of November 19th 1637 where an account is given of all the friars being imprisoned and freed only after a big sum of money was paid. To avoid all the difficulties that Friars and Christians in Nazareth were sumbitted to, the friars decided, in 1697, to take over even the guridical responsibility of Nazareth, after paying an annual sum of money to the Pascia of Sidon. Thusthe Guardian of Nazareth was both Guardian and judge of the town, a situation that went on till 1770.

It was only in 1730 that the Friars were permitted to built a church over the Grotto. The decree that authorized the work also fixed a time limit for its completion, and the Friars built in 7 months a modest edifice. In 1877 it was enlarged and in 1954 it was completely demolished to open up the way for a complete archaeologicla examination of the site and the building of a monument worthy of the mystery.


The Artal in front of the Holy Grotto of the Annunciation:
in the remains of the byzantine Church

the artal

Large image - 169KB


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Created / Updated Friday, March 25, 2005 at 0:11:07 by J. Abela, E. Alliata, E. Bermejo
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