Mary of Nazareth

| October 17, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Masterjohn188  CC BY-SA 3.0 Basilica of the Annunciation at Night

Masterjohn188  CC BY-SA 3.0
Magical at Night

St. Mary of Nazareth

The most important Christian holy sites designate locations where it is believed events laid out in the Gospel occurred. The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth is no exception. This house of worship marks the traditional site of Mary’s house.

Mary was 14 when, according to the Gospel, the archangel Gabriel told her she would give birth to the Christian Savior. Mary gave her verbal consent to the task. The three-door entrance to the basilica bears a Latin inscription of the Gospel quote detailing Mary’s consent.

The Basilica of the Annunciation is an immense and modern structure, especially in comparison to other churches in the Holy Land. When the two-story basilica was completed in 1969, the structure assumed the role as the Middle East’s largest Christian house of worship. In fact, the basilica contains two churches. The top story serves as Nazareth’s Catholic parish church, while the lower level serves as a shrine to the Byzantine grotto (cave) where Gabriel’s announcement (annunciation of Nazareth) was said to have occurred.

Basilica of the Annunciation Nazareth

The dome of the basilica’s cupola reaches 60 yards (55 meters) high and dominates the Nazareth skyline. Topping the dome is a lantern, in reference to a statement made by Jesus in which he called himself the “Light of the World.”

מוחמד מוסא שהואן  CC BY 2.5 Basilica of the Annunciation In Daylight

מוחמד מוסא שהואן  CC BY 2.5
In Daylight

The entrance to the Basilica is on the western side of the structure and well-marked with signs showing visitors the way. The creamy limestone exterior of the basilica bears the likenesses of many figures central to the story of Christianity (Mary, Gabriel and the four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in bas relief. Towering above them all is a bronze statue of the Christian Savior.

The southernmost door to the church is topped by a statue of Mary as the young girl she would have been at the time of the Annunciation. The statue serves as a welcome to all those who enter her home. The lower level of the basilica features a sunken, cave-like structure (grotto) commemorating Mary’s abode.

Catholic Basilica Remains

To either side of the grotto are remains from earlier churches. Sometimes the area is open to visitors, at other times this part of the tour is sectioned off by a metal grating. The interior of the grotto contains an altar inscribed with a Latin phrase demarcating the area as the place where Christians believe prophecy came to life.

A mosaic floor just to the left of the entrance serves as a commemorative plaque and states that the grotto was the gift of “Conon, deacon of Jerusalem.” Conon may have been the one who first helped to turn Mary’s home into a church, circa 427 CE.

At the front of the grotto is a second, simpler altar with tiered seating on three sides. An outsized eight-sided ceiling cutout offers visitors a lofty view straight up to the interior of the basilica’s dome.

Ra Boe / Wikipedia  CC BY 2.5 Cupola of the Basilica Church

Ra Boe / Wikipedia  CC BY 2.5
Cupola of the Church

Story of Mary Magdalene

The cupola of the church resembles a lily blossom, opening to extend its petals above the shrine. The lily is the traditional symbol of purity, and stands in reference to Mary’s virgin youth. One of the Hebrew meanings of Nazareth, in which these events are said to have occurred and where the basilica commemorating them is located, is “to branch” or “to flower.”

The upper level of the basilica is reached by a spiral staircase. The vast open space that is the upper church of the basilica serves as parish church for Catholic residents of the city. It is for this reason that the inscriptions are written in Arabic, the native language of the parishioners.

The double-tiered basilica was designed by Giovanni Muzio, an Italian architect. Muzio succeeded in preserving the remains of earlier churches on the site’s lower level. In addition to preserving the past, Muzio strove to protect the future as well, by doing his best to make the new structure impervious to earthquakes. Israel, sitting atop the Dead Sea Rift,  has suffered several substantial quakes. The basilica was constructed in three sections, each of reinforced concrete to prevent damage.

Administered by the Franciscans, the basilica is open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Phone: 972-4-657-2501.

Mary of Nazareth: Did You Know?

The upper church at the Basilica of the Annunciation contains multi-hued, multimedia representations of Mary as she is imagined by Christians from diverse parts of the world.

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Category: Christianity

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