Nazareth is widely believed to be the place Jesus grew up although some scholars believe he may have been born in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem and may have grown up somewhere other than Nazareth. Historic locations in the Holy Land are often subject to interpretations and beliefs after thousands of years.
I don’t know of any information that doesn’t agree that the Virgin Mary was visited in her grotto (cave) by the Archangel Gabriel and told she would give birth to Jesus but there are two churches, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Church, that claim the site of the grotto was in slightly different places and built shrines in those places. The most famous shrine and the one that is most accepted as accurate is the Roman Catholic Church’s Basilica of the Annunciation.
Something I probably didn’t know before this trip or didn’t remember. If you see a large cross with the horizontal and vertical lines of equal length and four smaller similar crosses in the junctions created by the large cross, that is a symbol for the Roman Catholic Church. You’ll see that symbol all over the Holy Land.
Generally, the Roman Catholic Church designs beautiful shrines and churches, builds them well, and maintains them well. Other Christian churches often don’t design beautiful shrines and churches, don’t build them well, and don’t maintain them well. That’s just an observation I saw over and over. I won’t name names here because it is only my observation and probably doesn’t really matter to a person’s beliefs. I’m sure the vast monetary resources of the Roman Catholic Church make them hard to compete with.
The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Church had different ideas about where Mary’s Grotto was and where Mary’s Stream or Mary’s Spring was. They each built a shrine near the other church.
The location of Mary’s Well or Mary’s Stream has been documented for years. In 70% Arab Nazareth, the bus lines that used to announce you were at Mary’s Stream now announce that you are at the Nazareth Stream.
Mary and her mother lived in a grotto or cave. She was near an underground spring that was the only source of water in the area. A well was built over the spring and Mary drew water from the well. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary while she was drawing water and told her she would give birth to Jesus.
The Roman Catholic Church built a huge, beautiful basilica or shrine around the grotto, the stream, and the well. Mary’s grotto is on the bottom floor and down below ground level and the dome of the basilica can be seen two or more stories above. An altar is on the second floor with a view of the basilica dome above.
While I was on the floor where Mary’s grotto is, I could hear a choir singing on the floor above. I only remember that they weren’t singing in English.
I heard many languages in the basilica – Spanish, French, etc. – but didn’t hear anyone speaking English.
I wondered why many Christians in America and Israel said Nazareth wasn’t safe. Bethlehem has a Muslim majority and has been in Palestinian control since 1995 and you would never hear a Christian telling you Bethlehem is not safe.
As I thought about this, I wondered. No one knows where Jesus lived as a child or even, for sure, if he grew in Nazareth. There are no actual records. Joseph’s carpenter shop and his tomb may be in Nazareth but the reports don’t seem 100% sure.
The major Christian religious draw to Nazareth is the Virgin Mary and the Basilica of the Annunciation. The Virgin Mary is a dominant figure in the Catholic religion, not so much for Southern Baptists or other non-Catholic Christian religions. That could be why I saw so many European and South American Catholics. But where were the American Catholics? The Holy Land is a mysterious place.
On the second floor of the basilica, where the altar is, you can look down on the first floor or look up at the basilica dome. The room is full of natural echo which is good for the choir but not so good for the priest. His voice echoed long after he stopped talking.
There was beautiful artwork inside and outside of the basilica. There were mosaics from many world countries that told the story of Mary and Jesus in their local styles. There were statues of the Virgin Mary and other prominent Catholics.
The basilica was pristine. There were many more visitors than I saw in Capernaum but there was no trash anywhere. As it should be.
Outside, against a wall near the Nazareth Market, a blind man was in what I don't think was sackcloth but reminded me of it with a wooden stick for a cane. He looked more like someone I would expect to see in Calcutta than in Nazareth. He didn’t say anything but I thought…alms for the poor.