The Church of the Annunciation
This site is always part of our live Octagon Tour.
Location - Nazareth
Map Coordinates - 32.702104, 35.297978
Merged Gospels story - 5
This is the birthplace of Christianity, because here is where the Word of God became flesh, inside Mary’s womb. This is a Catholic Church, and it’s the largest Christian church in the Middle East.
Like many shrines in the Holy Land, this church has two levels. The upper church is entirely modern. The lower church contains a cave, or grotto, that, according to both tradition and archeology, was the home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is where the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she was going to be the bearer of the Savior of the world. It is here that the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and in her was conceived the Son of God
This is actually the fourth church to exist on this site, and it was completed in 1969. The outdoor colonnade that you see all around is filled with mosaics of Mary and the infant Jesus.
The courtyard of the church, surrounded by mosaics of Mary and the baby Jesus.
Mary’s parents were named Anne and Joachim. These names do not appear in the Bible. They are recorded in a second-century book called the Protoevangelium of James, which supposedly contains the teaching of Jesus’ brother, James, who was also the first Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. The Protoevangelium of James describes the events that took place immediately before and including the birth of Jesus.
The Bronze Doors.
Three bronze doors enter the lower level of the church, and all have pictorial reliefs. These doors were built at the same time the church was, in 1969. The ones on the left and right depict scenes from the Old Testament, and the one in the middle displays various scenes from the life of Jesus.
The center bronze door leading to the Grotto of the Annunciation.
The Protoevangelium of James fills in many of the gaps in the Nativity story, and it adds to our understanding of what happened during the Annunciation to Mary. For example, the Protoevangelium of James reveals to us that the annunciation to Mary actually occurred in two parts, the longest discourse taking place in the location of this church.
Since there is virtually no contradiction between this book and our four canonical Gospels regarding the Annunciation to Mary, we can consider this book to be a historical supplement to our Biblical Gospels, because it records a segment of history that belongs to the first century. While this book may not have been written by James, the brother of Jesus, it could very well have been recorded from his teachings. In other words, it could contain his recollections, but not necessarily from his hand.
From where did the stories in the Protoevangelium of James originate? They probably came from Mary herself. Since James was a child growing up in her house, and because she lived for about eleven years after Jesus ascended into heaven, James was in an excellent position to hear and retell the stories of the events that occurred before the birth of Jesus.
The Grotto of the Annunciation.
Ancient records and the traditions of the church tell us that Mary was born in Jerusalem, and that she moved to Nazareth when she was about twelve years old, being betrothed to Joseph. Her parents had already died by this time, and she lived in a home that backed up to a cave.
The Grotto of the Annunciation.
There is no doubt that Mary’s home was partially a cave, since other dwellings like this have also been uncovered in Nazareth.
Is this the actual site of Mary’s home?
The Annunciation to Mary.
If you’re talking about the time before her marriage to Joseph, then the answer is most likely yes. We must remember that the veneration of Jesus and Mary was very strong immediately after His resurrection. There is little doubt that early believers would soon be asking about where the Annunciation and the Incarnation occurred. Logic would lead us to conclude that her home would have been honored almost immediately, and its value would have been highly regarded and perpetuated from that time onward. In other words, this area was most likely turned into a place of worship as early as the first century.
In 1959, just before the building of the current modern church, there was an excavation, and many things were found there. Probably the most important discovery was a pillar with the phrase “Hail Mary” inscribed on it. “Hail” was the first word spoken by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary (as recorded in the Protoevangelium of James, Chapter 2). This inscription was carved onto this pillar sometime before the year 350 AD. The words “Beautiful girl” were also found, once again probably a reference to Mary.
One of the pillars with inscriptions praising Mary.
It’s very obvious that within the first couple of centuries after Mary died this site was recognized as a place related to her life, most likely her home.
As with many shrines in this land, the fact that early churches were commissioned to be built in certain locations indirectly suggests that Christians in that area had already, and for probably many years previously, venerated the spot as being authentic.
The Annunciation Altar.
Most people automatically assume that when the Apostle John says that the Word of God became flesh, that this happened in Bethlehem. The truth is that the Word became flesh right here, in Nazareth, in Mary’s womb. You can see on the 18th-century altar at the Grotto of the Annunciation there is a Latin inscription that is translated “Here the Word of God became flesh” (see John 1:14). This was the moment that True Light entered the world.
The lower church with the Grotto of the Annunciation.
This grotto, around which everything in the church is focused, was probably in the rear portion (or sleeping room) of Mary’s home. According to Catholic tradition, it was in this grotto that two things took place.
First, the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Speaking in the future tense, Gabriel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. That incarnation in Mary’s womb probably took place later that evening, perhaps while she slept.
The Gabriel Column.
On the right side of the altar there is an ancient column. This was probably placed here in the fourth century to mark the place where the angel appeared to Mary.
Can it be proven that Mary lived here?
An important proof of the authenticity of these geographic sites is the testimony of a martyr named Conon who died in Asia Minor sometime between 249-251 AD. During his trial he declared, "I belong to the city of Nazareth in Galilee, and I am a relative of Christ whom I serve, as my forefathers have done". In this statement Conon is saying that his forefathers from Nazareth served Christ at least during the second century. All of this strongly suggests that there was a consistent Christian presence in Nazareth from the beginning of the Church, and that being the case, local memory would have preserved the identity of these sacred sites. Our conclusion from all of this is that we can be relatively sure of the authenticity of those sites that are traditionally considered holy by the church.
Until Christianity was legalized by the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, there were very few shrines commemorating holy places in the land of Israel. However, immediately after Christianity was legalized, altars and churches sprang up everywhere - one of them on this very spot.
The “Conon the Deacon” Chapel.
The Conon the Deacon Chapel.
The first church was built here in 427 AD. We know from a mosaic tile inscription on the floor just to the left of the grotto that a deacon from Jerusalem, named Conon, but not the same Conon who was martyred, donated either the flooring, or he provided the funding for the entire church.
The First Church - Byzantine.
Against the wall on the north side of the lower church are ruins of the first church that existed on this site. However, when the Persians attacked Palestine in the 7th century this Byzantine church was destroyed and was left in ruins for about three centuries.
The Second Church - Crusader.
The Crusaders came to Palestine in the late 11th century, and they began rebuilding the church. However, this was a time of war, and the church was never completed, nor did it last very long, because toward the end of the Crusades in 1263 AD, the church was destroyed by the Muslim Mamluk empire from Egypt.
The Third Church - Franciscan.
In 1620 AD the Franciscans purchased the ruins of the Crusader church from a local Arab ruler. But it wasn’t until a century later that they were allowed to build a church there. In 1720, this church was completed.
That church lasted for about 230 years. Early in the 20th century there were plans to build the modern church that exists today. But before this building project there were extensive excavations that revealed the remains of the ancient village of Nazareth with its silos, cisterns and other cave-dwellings.
The Upper Church.
In the upper level of the Church of the Annunciation, there are dozens of paintings, murals, mosaics and sculptures donated by Christian communities from around the world. All of these works of art have one thing in common - they are all about Mary. It is interesting to see Mary from the point of view of different world religions reflecting differences in her face, clothing and colors.
The Upper Church with the balcony that overlooks the Grotto of the Annunciation.
The Mosaic Behind the Main Altar.
Behind the main altar of this church is a huge mosaic, one of the largest in the world. According to the Franciscans, who are the custodians here, this mosaic depicts the “One, Holy, Apostolic Church”. From this vantage point you can look down through a large opening to the Annunciation Grotto below.
The Upper church with the mosaic of the One, Holy Apostolic Church.
The Authenticity of this Site.
There is a big reason why we know that this site was probably Mary’s home. A second-century Christian author named Saint Hegesippus revealed that one of Jesus’ four brothers, specifically Judah, the author of the Book of Jude, had two grandsons named Zocer and James, and these grandsons continued to live in Nazareth after the time of Jesus. They would have known full well where Mary and Joseph lived. It is very logical to believe that these grandsons played a major role in helping to preserve the memory of where these important sites were actually located.
Another ancient author, Sextus Julius Africanus in around 200 AD, talked about Jesus’ family having lived on in Nazareth, and that they kept very good records of their ancestry.
Mary is the source of many stories in the Gospels.
Mary as the matriarch of the Church, and the source of all Nativity stories.
It’s worth noting that much of the material in our Gospels comes to us through Mary’s own personal recollections, especially those events leading up to the time when Jesus was 12 years old. This means that Mary is actually the source of virtually everything related to the Nativity story of Jesus. She probably related the events of her life, her conversation with the angel, her trip to see her cousin, Elizabeth, and her experience in Bethlehem. All of this likely came to us from Mary herself to Christ’s disciples, and eventually the world.
The Incarnation of Jesus.
There are incarnation myths from ancient religions all over the world, and in many of these myths there is some deity that comes down and impregnates a human female, producing a god/man (called a demigod) with supernatural powers. This is very common in pagan literature. At my last count there were 53 demigods in ancient stories.
This has encouraged many amateur critics of the Bible to claim that the incarnation story of Jesus is nothing more than recycled mythology – that Jesus is just another mythical demigod.
But take note. I said that these were amateur critics who claimed this. You see, these claims never come from scholars who are trained experts in these ancient religions. The reason that experts never claim that the incarnation story of Jesus is copied from deities that predate him is that they know this is a false hypothesis that is very easy to disprove. All you have to do is go back to the ancient documents or inscriptions for yourself, and you will find that none of these claims are supported in the actual historic record.
Here are the facts. There is no manuscript or inscription predating Jesus that states that some deity procreated with a human female that produced a hybrid demigod. Not one. Every single myth about a demigod comes from documents or inscriptions that were written after Jesus.
Whoa! Suddenly you realize what’s actually happening here – that the stories of Jesus’ incarnation are not copied from the myths of pagan gods, but rather just the opposite - that the myths about these gods have been subsequently and deliberately revised to copy the story of Jesus. Anyone who claims that the story of Jesus’ incarnation was plagiarized from ancient deities is obligated to support that assumption either with manuscripts or inscriptions that predate Jesus. But they can’t, because they don’t exist.
Once again, you will not find any manuscripts or inscriptions about the divine incarnation of any pagan god/man where the document was written before Jesus. The truth is that these demigod legends pop up only after the story of Jesus’ incarnation had already been circulating around the world. In other words, even though these ancient physical deities were created before Jesus, the legends about their procreations with human females were invented after Jesus.
We need to ask, who is copying who? The historic evidence clearly shows that it is the pagans who plagiarized the incarnation story from the Christians, and not the other way around.
From this you can see that ancient cults actually revised what they taught about their own ancient gods in order to deliberately copy what Christians were teaching about Jesus.
The earliest recorded incarnation story that we know of in all of ancient literature is the story of Jesus’ incarnation as told in the Gospel of Luke, which was written within one generation after Jesus lived on this earth. All other manuscripts which describe the birth of supernatural demigods were suspiciously written long after the Gospel of Jesus had permeated the Roman empire.
Remember also that the early Christians were Jews, and that the incarnation story of Jesus started within the Jewish community. Every scholar knows this. The people who first taught about the divine incarnation of Jesus were not Greeks. They were monotheists Israelites, and not pagans. They were law-observant Jews. Every Gospel writer was a Jew, except for Luke, but even he compiled his Gospel from the first-hand testimony of Jews.
The Jews were a very separatist people, and no Jew in the first century would have plagiarized from a pagan myth to rewrite a portion of their own history, much less to make a pagan god out of a man. That was idolatry, and it was forbidden by their law.
It turns out that the early Christians did not make up the story about Jesus’s incarnation. On the contrary, we know that the myths of many ancient gods were revised in order to discredit the story of Jesus.