The Church of Saint Joseph
Exploring the Church of Saint Joseph
Location - Nazareth
Map Coordinates - 32.703110, 35.298426
Merged Gospels story - 8
This is a small church that exists very much in the shadow of the much larger Annunciation Church, which was built over the place where Mary lived, just as Saint Joseph himself lives historically in the shadow of both Jesus and Mary.
The History of Joseph.
In trying to put all of the pieces together, and drawing on numerous historical sources, we have laced together the story of Joseph like this. First of all, Mary was not a native of Nazareth. She lived in Jerusalem until she was twelve years old, at which time she became betrothed to Joseph. We learned this from the Protoevangelium of James, which was compiled sometime around 150 AD.
Joseph was a craftsman, and I believe that this church stands in the place where his home in Nazareth was before Jesus was born. After Jesus came into the world, and when Mary and Joseph resettled in Nazareth, they probably didn’t live there, but resided in another location that seems to be more authentic under the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth, a block away.
What did Joseph do for a living? We know from the Gospels (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3) that he was a builder, but we don’t exactly know what he built. He could have been a carpenter, but the Greek word, teknon, which means builder, could also mean that he was a stonemason.
The History of this Church.
The Statue of Saint Joseph and Jesus inside the church.
According to tradition, this is in this place where Joseph received a revelation from an angel (Matthew 1:20), where he was told to take Mary as his wife, after it was learned that she was pregnant.
This church was built over the remains of two other churches, the earliest one dating back to the sixth century, and a second church that was built during the Crusader years.
The Arabs conquered the Crusaders in the 13th century, and at that time the church was destroyed, and left in ruins for about 500 years. The reason that churches were left in ruins for so long after they were demolished was that the land was controlled by the religious group that destroyed the church, so reconstruction was not allowed.
In 1754 AD this property was purchased by the Franciscans and they eventually built the church that you’re looking at now. The Church of Saint Joseph was completed in 1914 AD.
The Baptistry in the Crypt.
The crypt below the church was built about 900 years ago by the Crusaders, and it hasn’t changed very much since then.
Many scholars believe that this crypt reflects the Jewish roots of Christianity, because in the middle of it is a mysterious 6.5-foot square basin cut into the rock. We believe that this basin, which has seven steps going down into it, was a Christian baptistery.
Some believe that this is the oldest baptistery ever discovered.
This baptistry looks very much like a Jewish mikveh, which was a ceremonial washing or purification pool used by the Jews. If this is, in fact, a baptistry, it was probably built by a Jewish Christian church that still practiced the ritual of frequent Jewish ceremonial bathing. That would make this a very primitive Christian church, lending strong support to the assumption that this baptistery could have been built as early as the first century. If that’s the case, this would be the oldest known baptistery in the world.
The Lower Crypt.
There is a narrow set of stairs going down to an even lower level, usually illuminated by a green light. This lower area is on the level of the ancient village of Nazareth, dating back to the first century, or even before. What was this lower crypt used for? There’s not much room down there for someone to stand up, so it was probably not a workshop, but rather just a living area, or perhaps a storage area for things like grain, wine, and oil.
Is Joseph a symbol of many people in the Church?
One of the interesting things about Joseph is that he has no speaking lines in the Gospels, but he does have four dreams, and in these dreams he is always addressed by angels. Joseph’s dreams were conveyed to Mary, and she told them to Christ’s disciples, which is how these stories became part of the Bible. The fact that Joseph is entirely absent from the Gospels by the time that Jesus began His earthly ministry suggests that he had passed away prior to Jesus turning 30 years old.
The earliest historical reference that we have of Joseph’s death is in a late 6th or 7th-century book called The History of Joseph the Carpenter. If it is true that he was gone before Jesus was 30, it means that Joseph’s primary role in the Gospels was to help protect and navigate Jesus to safety in His early life. Once Jesus became a man, and could do everything that life required for Himself, the absence of Joseph from the pages of the Bible suggests that he was no longer needed by God for this task, and that the Father retired him to eternity.
The Meaning of the Story.
Many of us, like Joseph, seem to have a part to play in the epic of the church that is not a speaking role. In other words, it does not appear that we are a chosen mouthpiece for God. Our tasks seem to be very mundane, ordinary, or even meaningless. But would anyone look at Joseph and say that his role wasn’t significant? Of course not, and to say that your role is insignificant is to measure yourself against the wrong standard.
To an infinitely large God, all roles in His kingdom are equally important. Like Joseph, the essential thing for you to do is exactly what Jesus said to do – to love God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength. Christ said, “Do that, and you will have eternal life”. And as God had a small role for Joseph in His eternal epic, He has a role for you in this same theater of life.