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John Paul II
Nazareth: Basilica of the Annunciation
In 1730, vhen the Franciscans of the Holy Land erected the little church over the Grotto of the Annunciation, it was not possible to undertake any archaeological excavation. The reason is that the permission to build - won with great difficulty and at great cost - allowed only six months for all construction from beginning to end. Thus, there was barely time to level the ruins and put up the walls.
An upper view of the Holy Site
With the coming of better times, Brother Benedict Vlaminck undertook a short season of excavation in 1892 and brought to light the remains of the ancient Byzantine buildings around the Grotto, as well as the plan of the Crusader basilica. We must credit him also with finding the masaic of Conon, still to be admired to the left of the main shrine. During the years 1889 and 1907-l909, Father Prosper Viaud, O.F.M., directed further excavations. There came to light columns, mosaics and graffiti of many devout pilgrims. At this time, too, the magnificent Crusader capitals were found (today preserved in the adjacent museum).
Different views of the constructions
In 1955, after the Custody of the Holy Land decided to erect the great, new basilica to honour the mystery of the Incarnation and to feature the venerated Grotto, it was resolved that a start should be made with an exhaustive archaeological examination of the whole area.
The late Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti, O.F.M., professor at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum at Flagellation, Jerusalem, was entrusted with this work. Study began in 1955 immediately after the demolition of the church of 1730. The examination was so thorough that not one square centimetre of the ground or the ruins was left unexplored. Flooring, mosaics and pieces of plaster were removed to allow full examination and the reconstruction of the archaeological picture of the place. Operations continued from 1955 to 1968 and yielded data of great scientific importance, so much so that it is quite true to say that this shrine at Nazareth is one of the most completely documented of all the sanctuaries of the Holy Land.