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John Paul II
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.
The remains of the byzantine and pre-byzantine period
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 Holy Grotto of the Annunciation:
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.
The Artal in front of the Holy Grotto of the Annunciation: