Every Christian in the world has heard tales of the city of Nazareth since they were first taken to a church service. This was the city of Jesus’ comeuppance as a teacher, religious leader, and eventual Christian messiah. There are monuments, basilicas, and even ancient synagogues that reflect where it all began for the world’s number one practiced religion. If you happen to be visiting the city during the Christmas season, this is the best time to see all these sites in action. Today, however, the city hosts the largest Arab population in the lower Galilee.
The History of Nazareth
At the time of its establishment, Nazareth was a predominantly Jewish city, but is never mentioned in the Old Testament or any Rabbinic sources. During Jesus’ ascent as the voice of a new religious movement, his actions and words contested heavily the established order of the Judeo-Roman world. When the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE the Jewish population of the city declined significantly.
Jesus’ life and teachings prevailed in starting a new life and definition for the city of Nazareth. Centuries later, it invited a whole movement of religious warriors, the Crusaders, whose presence is still being excavated from the land today. When the city was captured by the Ottoman Turks in the early 16th century, they expelled all the Christians from the city. Eventually, those who had been forced to leave were allowed to return. Today, the city hosts the largest population of Christian Arabs anywhere in the Levant. Nazareth is also visited by scores of Catholic Christians and those belonging to Eastern Orthodoxy.
Tradition runs deep in more than just the Christian history of Nazareth. The city is home to some of the best Arab food in the Middle East with restaurants being passed down through the generations. There is also an esteemed school of music, Polyphony Nazareth whose mission is to bring together Jewish and Arab musicians in a shared fusion of two distinct music cultures. This is a great representation of the new flourished life of the Jewish community in an otherwise intensely Christian city.
Historic Sites in Nazareth
Interestingly enough, many of the Christian historic sites in Nazareth have more to do with the life of Jesus’ mother Mary than they do her son. The first is the Church of Annunciation, the most visited Church in the Galilee. This is where it is said the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary and informed her of her divine insemination by God. This was the monumental event that started it all and as a result, the Church enjoys the status of a minor basilica, a title bestowed by the Vatican according to Canon law. If the Pope happened to reside in the Holy Land it is likely this would be Christianity’s number one basilica.
Inside the church is the site where the angel was said to have appeared to the mother of Jesus, known as Mary’s Well. The source of the well’s water is a cave spring located a few kilometers north of the church. In recent years, the church has constructed a new well site where visitors are allowed to gather en masse. The waters from inside the church are filtered down to this new site. For centuries the wells’ waters were said to harbor healing properties and farmers used to water their fields with the holy substance. The site is even considered to be holy amongst Muslims that inhabit Nazareth.
One of the major sites that was supposedly utilized by Jesus in his lifetime is the Synagogue Church. Little is known about the life of Jesus within Nazareth, making the synagogue one of the main staples of Jesus’ presence and teachings. The structure that stands today is thought to have been built on top of the ruins of the original synagogue, hence the contradictory title.
There are even more sites and tours to be embarked upon designed to lead you down the path of Christianity’s beginnings. In addition to its history, Nazareth is also home to some of the finest Arab cuisine in the north. Family restaurants and recipes passed down from generation to generation, an ode to the modern history and culture of Nazareth. Be sure to include this incredible city on your trip to Israel.