The Sisters of Nazareth Convent
Was This Jesus' Home in Nazareth?
Location - Nazareth
Map Coordinates - 32.702504, 35.296868
Merged Gospels story - 15
The picture above is believed to be the home that Jesus grew up in - where He spent about twenty-seven years of His life.
In the city of Nazareth there is an ancient cave church that was built next to what was presumed to be the home in which Jesus grew from boy to man. This cave is in the crypt of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent, a group of nuns who came to this town in the year 1854 AD. During the 1880’s they discovered this cave, and their subsequent decades-long work revealed not only the ancient cave church that fourth-century Christians built, but also the home in which it is believed that Jesus was raised.
Jesus as a boy in Nazareth.
The site has also been recently surveyed by the British Archeologist, Ken Dark, and his conclusions were published in 2021.
In around the year 680 AD a French Bishop named Arculf visited the Holy Land, and he gave a detailed narrative of his findings to a Scottish abbot named Adamnan. This text was titled De Locis Sanctis (meaning Of the Holy Places), and in Chapter 26 of this document Arculf recalls his visit to the town of Nazareth. He says
(In) the city of Nazareth… there are two very large churches, one in the center of the city raised on two piles, where once upon a time was the house in which the Lord, our savior, was brought up. This church then, as has been said above, is supported upon two mounds with arches between them, and there is a very clear fountain underneath, between the mounds. The whole community of citizens come to draw water from it, and from the same source vessels of water are raised up to the church above by means of pulleys.
The two large churches that Arculf refers to are (1) the Church of the Annunciation, and (2) what we believe, is the long-lost fifth-century Church of the Nutrition, in the crypt of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent.
Shortly after the nuns took up residence here in the 1880’s they made the accidental discovery of this ancient cistern - a well that held water for human consumption.
In the middle of the stairs that lead down into the crypt we can see one of the arches to which Arculf referred. In the center there was a pulley, and the hole carved into one of these pillars would tie up the rope that was used to lower the bucket into this cistern. That cistern is now dry, but we know that it was still in use by the late 7th century.
The well referred to by Arculf and Egeria.
In the year 381 AD, a Spanish lady pilgrim called Egeria came through Nazareth, and according to Peter the Deacon in the 12th century, she is quoted as saying the following.
There is a big and very splendid cave in which she (Mary) lived. An altar has been placed there, and there, within the actual cave is the place from which she drew water.
Was Egeria talking about the Grotto of the Annunciation or the Church of the Nutrition?
Egeria is probably referring to the Church of the Nutrition. The fact is that there is no place in the Grotto of the Annunciation where Mary could have drawn water. And the traditional site where the 15-year-old Mary drew water was at the location of the Church of Saint Gabriel, several blocks to the north. Therefore, we can only conclude that the location to which Egeria was referring was the Church of the Nutrition, and this cistern in particular.
Egeria might have only mentioned Mary, and not Joseph, because Mary must have lived here for many years after Joseph died. I suspect that Mary lived in two places in Nazareth – one before the birth of Jesus (at the site of the annunciation grotto), and one afterward (presumably this site, the Church of the Nutrition).
Egeria’s statement acknowledges that Mary lived near a big and very splendid cave. This description is far more characteristic of the Church of the Nutrition, which is a large cave, rather than of the small Grotto of the Annunciation. Furthermore, the foundation of an altar still exists in this cave church.
The History of the Church.
There have been two churches built on this site, one underground in a cave, built in the fourth century, and one on the surface (the so-called Church of the Nutrition, built in the fifth century), the latter being constructed to protect both the underground cave church, and, presumably, the first-century “home of Jesus”. The above-ground church, to which Arculf refers, is no longer standing.
When the Muslims occupied the Holy Land in 638 AD, and after the visit of Bishop Arculf in 670 AD, the Church of the Nutrition fell into disuse and ill repair. However, when the Crusaders took control of Nazareth, sometime around 1099, they quickly rebuilt both the cave church and the above-ground Church of the Nutrition, dedicating a considerable amount of resources to the project. The floor level in the cave church was raised, and many alterations were made both to it and the surface-level church.
However, the military position of the Crusaders deteriorated to the point where Nazareth was taken again by a Muslim army in 1187. At the end of the Crusades, those who were in charge of the church were aware that the site was doomed, so the house of Jesus was hurriedly sealed up in hopes of protecting it. The surface-level church was then destroyed by fire, and religious use of the site ceased until the construction of the Sisters of Nazareth convent in the nineteenth century.
The baptistry in the Church of Nutrition. Water cascades down through four cells through holes in the partitions.
From at least the 3rd century onward Christians baptized infants as a standard practice. One factor hastening the rise of infant baptism was the understanding of original sin, and that baptism washed away the stain of original sin. To that end, we find explicit mention of infant baptism as early as Tertullian around A.D. 220. He mentions the practice of infant Baptism in conjunction with parents or sponsors who would aid in the child’s spiritual training. By the year 400 AD Augustine appealed to the universal practice of infant baptism.
While baptisms in the Byzantine Church were commonly done in stagnant water, fonts providing a flowing water experience were not unique. Ultimately, pouring water became a standard mode for many baptisms, even though the baptismal candidate was not fully immersed.
The baptismal font in the Church of the Nutrition is unique in that it replicates what was called “living water” or water that flowed like a river. Since Jesus was baptized in the flowing water of the Jordan River, and because He was presumed to have lived next to this cave church, then it is understandable that the worshippers here strove to replicate Christ’s baptism with a flowing baptistry. Here the water was poured from the top cell, and it trickled down slowly through holes cut in the cell walls.
The Church of the Nutrition. You can see the raised platform where the altar once stood. Also the cascading baptistry is on the left of the altar.
The First-Century Jewish Home.
This was once a four-room house. Here one can see what is obviously a first-century home with a courtyard, being at least 15 or 20 feet below the current street level. Because urban development tends to raise the level of cities over time, in order to descend to the level of Biblical sites, one must descend to a deeper level.
Because Nazareth was a Jewish settlement, it makes sense that the people who occupied this home were Jews. The house extended all the way to the far wall where you see a stone manger. The manger was a feeding trough for domestic farm animals, which suggests that this section of the home was a stable.
Part of this home was carved into the rocky hillside, with quarried stones providing the remainder of its construction.
Why did the Byzantine church believe that this was the home of Jesus’ ascent to adulthood? It was probably based on a very credible oral tradition. You see, there was a second-century Christian author named Saint Hegesippus who revealed that one of Jesus’ four brothers, Judah, the author of the Book of Jude, had two grandsons named Zocer and James. These grandsons continued to live in Nazareth after the time of Jesus, and they would have known where Mary and Joseph lived, because they lived there themselves. These grandsons probably played a major role in helping to preserve the memory of where these important sites were located.
Here I am entering what I believe is the ancient home of Jesus.
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.
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.
The Tomb of the Just.
Myself and my son Dan at the Tomb of the Just.
Another feature of the site that suggests that this was the home of Jesus is the fact that there is a Jewish tomb nearby. The nuns call this the Tomb of the Just, being identified as the tomb of Joseph, the husband of Mary. However, archeologists believe that the tomb was constructed in the mid-to-late first century, after the house was abandoned. According to Dr. Dark, "It is unlikely to be the actual tomb of Saint Joseph, given that it dates to after the disuse of the house.
This tomb is actually too close to the house to satisfy the Jewish custom which did not allow tombs to be built near residences (see Numbers 19:11). The fact that this tomb is as close as it is, and as old as it is, suggests that the house was abandoned prior to its construction, further suggesting that the house was considered a shrine almost immediately after the time of Jesus, the belief being that no one should ever live there again. If all of this is true, it implies that the so-called “home of Jesus” was considered a holy site almost immediately after He lived on the earth.
To that end, the tomb could have been the tomb of Joseph, although his body would have been entombed at a different location while the home of Jesus was still being used by Mary, Jesus and other family members. Perhaps his body was transferred to this tomb in remembrance of his association with this holy house.
Inside the Tomb of the Just.
It would seem strange if the house was abandoned because it was a shrine, and yet a tomb to be built so close for anonymous persons. Therefore, my conclusion is that this was either a cenotaph for Joseph, or it was the second place where his body was laid.
The tomb has several notable features. First, it has a rolling stone, which helped contain the odor of a decomposing corpse. It’s also a rather large tomb with two sarcophagi inside, each one being a typical Jewish kokh tomb, which is a deep niche in the wall. Adjacent to the tomb is a large weeping chamber - a place of mourning.
The artifacts found in the first-century house include broken cooking pots, a spindle whorl (used in spinning thread), glass vessels, coins, metalwork, and limestone vessels. Probable fragments of limestone vessels indicate that the inhabitants were very likely Jewish, because limestone vessels are not subject to impurity under Jewish law and were therefore very popular in Jewish communities at this time.