Nazareth

Nazareth is situated in the most southerly hills of the Lebanon range, just before it drops abruptly down to the plain of Esdraelon. The town lies in a hollow plateau about 1200 feet above the level of the Mediterranean......

Nazareth is situated in the most southerly hills of the Lebanon range, just before it drops abruptly down to the plain of Esdraelon. The town lies in a hollow plateau about 1200 feet above the level of the Mediterranean, between hills which rise to an altitude of 1610 feet. The ancient Nazareth occupied the triangular hillock that extends from the mountain on the north, having its point turned to the south. Its northwestern boundary is marked by numerous Jewish tombs which have been discovered on the slope of Jebel es Likh. The southeastern limit is the small valley that descends from the beautiful spring called St. Mary's Well, which was, no doubt, the chief attraction for the first settlers. In the last fifty years the population has increased rapidly, and amounts at the present day to more than 7000 souls. The modern houses, white and clean, run up all along the hillsides, especially on the north. Spread out in the shape of an amphitheatre, set in a green framework of vegetation, Nazareth offers to the eye a very attractive picture.

The town is not mentioned in the Old Testament, nor even in the works of Josephus. Yet, it was not such an insignificant hamlet as is generally believed. We know, first, that it possessed a synagogue. Neubaurer quotes, moreover, an elegy on the destruction of Jerusalem, taken from ancient Midrashim now lost, and according to this document, Nazareth was a home for the priests who went by turns to Jerusalem, for service in the Temple. Up to the time of Constantine, it remained exclusively a Jewish town. St. Epiphaenius relates that in 339 Joseph, Count of Tiberias, told him that, by a special order of the emperor, "he built churches to Christ in the towns of the Jews, in which there were none, for the reason that neither Greeks, Samaritans, nor Christians were allowed to settle there, viz., at Tiberias, at Diocaesarea, or Sepphoris, at Nazareth, and at Capharnaum". St. Paula and St. Sylvia of Aquitaine visited the shrines of Nazareth towards the end of the fourth century, as well as Theodosius about 530; but their short accounts contain no description of its monuments.

The Pilgrim of Piacenza saw there about 570, besides "the dwelling of Mary converted into a basilica", the "ancient synagogue". A little treatise of the same century, entitled "Liber nominum locorum ex Actis", speaks of the church of the Annunciation and of another erected on the site of the house "where our Lord was brought up". In 670 Arculf gave Adamnan an interesting description of the basilica of the Annunciation and of the church of the "Nutrition of Jesus".

The Grotto of the Annunciation of angel Gabriel
and Mary. The altar bears the inscription
"Verbum caro hic factum est",
"Here The Word Became Flesh" .

Entrance of The Annunciation Basilica

The toleration which the Moslems showed towards the Christians, after conquering the country in 637, did not last long. Willibald, who visited Nazareth about 725, found only the basilica of the Annunciation, "which the Christians", he says "often redeemed from the Saracens, when they threatened to destroy it". The Greek emperor, John Zimisces, reconquered Galilee from the Arabs in 920, but, five years afterwards, he was poisoned by his eunuchs, and his soldiers abandoned the country. The basilica, finally ruined under the reign of the Calif Hakem (1010), was rebuilt by the crusaders in 1101, as well as the church of the Nutrition, or St. Joseph's House. At the same time the Greeks erected the church of St. Gabriel near the Virgin's Well. The archiepiscopal See of Scythopolis was also transferred to Nazareth. After the disastrous battle of Hattin (1187), the crusaders, with the European clergy, were compelled to leave the town.

On 25 March, 1254, St. Louis and Queen Marguerite celebrated the feast of the Annunciation at Nazareth; but nine years later, the Sultan Bibars completely destroyed all the Christian buildings, and Nazareth soon dwindled down to a poor village. In the fourteenth century, a few Franciscan Friars established themselves there, among the ruins of the basilica. They had much to suffer during their stay, and many of them were even put to death, especially in 1385, in 1448, and in 1548, when all the friars were driven out of the country. In 1620 Fakher ed Din, Emir of the Druses, allowed them to build a church over the Grotto of the Annunciation; but it was ruined some years later by the Bedouins. The Franciscans nevertheless remained near the sanctuary, and in 1730 the powerful Sheikh Dhaher el Amer authorized them to erect the church which is still to be seen.

Nazareth To-day


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