Sacred Spaces: Church of the Annunciation (Nazareth)

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“The Church of the Annunciation (or Basilica of the Annunciation, as it’s sometimes known), is located in Nazareth, in the Galilee, and one of the top sites for any Christian on a Holy Land tour.” Completed in 1969, the two-story basilica became the largest Christian church in the Middle East.  It’s actually two churches in one – the current, modern structure seen above ground was built atop earlier shrines built in that location.

“The plan of two churches, one above the other and interconnected, was conceived by the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio.  As well as preserving the remains of previous churches on the lower level, he allowed for the risk of earthquake by constructing the building in three separate sections of reinforced concrete.” 

The Church of the Annunciation stands over the cave home of the Virgin Mary.  This is where the archangel Gabriel came before young Mary and told her that she would give birth to the Son of God.  “And here Mary uttered her consent: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”” 

During the 4th century, a shrine was erected at this location – a simple altar placed in the cave.  Later (around the time that the Church of the Nativity and Church of the Holy Sepulcher were built), Constantine I had a larger structure built, which was destroyed around the time of the Crusades.

In the 12th century, a Crusader church was built over the ruins of Constantine’s church.  “Beautiful artwork was commissioned, and French artisans created stunning capitals carved with scenes from the lives of the Apostles.”  Unfortunately, this church too was lost when the Crusader kingdom fell.

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It seems as though nothing became of the site until the 1600’s when it was purchased by the Franciscans. However, they had to wait 120 years before they were given permission to build a new church (which was demolished to build the current, modern basilica).

The modern church we see today is actually the fifth church to be built on this site (it was erected in the 1950s).  It has a beautiful limestone facade featuring reliefs of Mary, Gabriel, the four evangelists and a bronze statue of Jesus above them.  Over the southern door to the Church of the Annunciation is a statue depicting young Mary welcoming visitors and pilgrims to her home.

Inside, the upper church features wonderful and colorful representations of Mary from throughout the world.  “Behind the main altar is a huge mosaic, one of the biggest in the world, depicting the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”.”

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The most famous (and instantly recognizable) feature of the upper church is the towering cupola.  The cupola represents a lily, opening to the shrine below it.  The lily symbolizes Mary’s purity as well as “[…] one of the Semitic meanings of the name Nazareth, a flower.”

In the lower level of the Church of the Annunciation is a grotto containing the Mary’s cave home.  “The cave is flanked by remnants of [the] earlier churches on the site.”  In the front of the cave is an altar with seats around it.  There is an opening in the ceiling above the altar which is exactly below the church’s cupola.

Today, the Church of the Annunciation is still under the control of the Franciscans.  “It is the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East, and the parish church for the thousands of Catholics living in Nazareth. It was dedicated by Pope Paul VI in 1964.”

Tour the Church of the Annunciation

The video below offers a wonderful tour of Church of the Annunciation.   (Click here to view directly on YouTube).

Sacred Spaces Blog Series

Want to learn more about the world’s most unique and fascinating sacred spaces? Follow the links below to other pieces from our Sacred Spaces blog series!

Basilica di San Marco (Venice) | St. Issac’s Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Monastery of the Kiev Caves (Kiev) | St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | The Duomo (Florence) | The Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) | Cathedral of St. Sophia (Novgorod) | Church of Our Savior on  Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg) | The Church of the Ascension (Kolomenskoye) | St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow) |The Churches of Kizhi Pogost | Monastery of Panagia Elona | Smolny Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Agios Stefanos (Syros Island) | Church of the Intercession on the Nerl | The Rock Churches of Matera | The Monastery of St. John the Theologian (Patmos) | Durham Cathedral | Church of the Sign (Dubrovitsy) | Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem) | Church of St. Mary Magdalene (Jerusalem) | Church of St. John the Baptist (Jerusalem)

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Church of the Annunciation –
Basilica of Annunciation –
Church of the Annunciation: Going back to the beginning –

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