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John Paul II
Nazareth: Sanctuary of the Annunciation
For a very long time, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land wanted to erect a church really worthy of the great mystery commemorated at Nazareth. For various reasons, the idea had to be postponed time and time again. Finally, in 1951 the Custody put aside a preliminary design by the noted architect Antonio Barluzzi (he who had adorned the Holy Land with many of its finest churches) and commissioned Professor Giovanni Muzio to prepare fresh plans for a basilica. It was to incorporate the venerable Grotto of the Annunciation and preserve to the full the remains of the ancient Christian churches found at Nazareth. They would thus form visible evidence of the long story of devotion to the particular mystery honored in this place.
Various views of the façade
The architect conceived a plan of two churches, one above the other and interconnected: the lower or crypt on the level of the former churches, and the upper church The lower preserves the Holy Grottos and the remains of the Byzantine and Crusader churches, which bespeak an uninterrupted cult and authentic tradition. The roof opens in a starlike lantern in the centre of the upper church to which there is access by stairway. The upper Church is the Latin Parish Church of Nazareth. The central feature was to be the Grotto marked on high by the striking dome. The new project was approved in 1969 and, after much testing of the subsoil and preparatory work on the foundations, the contract for construction was signed on September 30, 1960, with the Israeli building firm of Solel Boneh.
The main entrance
The lower church follows the plan marked out by the walls and foundations of the Crusader basilica, except on the west side where the new walls are set back by five metres, to cut off the new building from the busy main road and to leave room for a suitable esplanade. The internal dimensions are 44.60 metres in length and 27 in width. The apses built by the Crusaders are separate, these being kept and partially reconstructed. The overall height of the nave and the apses is about 7 metres. The central nave is left free of all supports, these being incorporated in the outside walls. The floor level here drops to that of the archaeological work below, so that the full roof height is 9 metres. The middle of this church enshrines the most sacred spot of all, the Grotto, and here the roof of the lower church is pierced by a star-shaped oculus situated exactly under the dome of the upper church. The entrances to the church are from the portico on the west side, in line with the whole building, and from the south in the direction of the Grotto. The side entrances in the main facade give access to two spiral stairways leading to the upper church.
The Upper Church
The upper church is 7.60 m. above the level of the lower. The inside dimensions are 44.60 by 27 metres. Space available for public worship (clear of the oculus, pillars, columns and altar-steps) is about 1160 square metres. The roof of the nave is 12 m. high, while, in the middle, the cupola rises 40 m. above the floor. The sanctuary is 9 m. wide. From the altar rails to the wall of the choir, inside the sanctuary, it is 18 m. deep. The choir measures 10 m. by 8. Eighteen metres above the sanctuary, there rises the baldachino in the shape of a pyramid, its apes corresponding to the tabernacle. Overhead it is crowned by a row of windows which throw impressive light on the main altar and the mosaiced apse (by S. Fiume) representing the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church".
The Mosaic in the apse representing the
On all the perimiter walls of the upper Church, as well as in the atrium surrounding the Church paintings/sculptures/bass-reliefs represent the Marian Sanctuaries of the world.
Internal view of the "New" basilica
As has been said, entrance to the upper church from the west is by means of two spiral stairways It is also connected with the lower church by a wide stairway on the south side. However, the real main entrance is to the North. Here, on a level with the upper church, is a large elevated square of 800 square metres. Thence, two doors open into the church proper while, in line with these, there is a small eight-sided shrine which is the baptistery. The great elavated square also serves another purpose: to protect the remains of ancient Nazareth's dwellings which have been excavated in the soil below. The square is 16 m. in length along its west side, 13 m. along the south. A portico graces the building on the west and south sides. It is 4 metres wide and runs for a total length of 105 m. On the south side it forms a graceful open arcate overlooking the valley of Nazareth and providing a welcome resting place for the visitor. The wide walls are made of dressed stone native to the area. They are impressive in size, but do not rival the immensity of the Crusader masonry. The roofing is in reinforced concrete.
The Dome of the "New" basilica
The dome is all in reinforced concrete with stone dressing up to the level of the open loggia, 27 metres from the ground. The loggia and the lantern are in stone, while the pyramid is covered with copper. The cupola ends with a lantern, 66 metres high in all.