In God’s Land: Nazareth and Mount of Transfiguration

21 09 2019

20th September 2019

We had early breakfast, by 6.30am to be precise, and departed for Nazareth by 7.20 am prompt. Nazareth has about 70,000 inhabitants today, but in the time of Jesus, it had just about 100 people. It is a two hour drive from the city of Jerusalem.

We took the shortest way; high way 6, because we needed to get there on time to see Nazareth and celebrate Mass is at 11 am at the Church of Annunciation.

Our mission is to visit Mary’s well; a well that ancient tradition says was frequently used by the Blessed Virgin Mary and the boy, Jesus. We also hope see the workshop of St. Joseph, and the cliff from which the people of Nazareth wanted to push Jesus down in an act that is best described as an attempted murder. After Mass we intend to visit the ancient village of Cana where Jesus turned water into wine at the insistence of his mother and finally we will end our tour with a visit to mount Tabor, the mountain where Jesus transfigured and his clothes became dazzling white, in the presence of his apostles and with apparition of Moses and Elijah. (Mark 9:3)

As you can see it’s a tight schedule for one day thus the early rising.

Nazareth

350m above sea level, Nazareth was where everything started. God took flesh in the womb of a woman, the most pure womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1:26-38). On the way, we saw the Chapel of our Lady of the freight, to commemorate Mary seeing the people of Nazareth trying to cast Jesus into the cliff. (Lk 4:29)

In the time of our Jesus, there were just about 30 families living in Nazareth. Today, Nazareth is the biggest Arab town owned by Israel. Most of the inhabitants are Muslims.

We entered Nazareth using the Via Maris (the way of the see), a high way that begins in Memphis in the delta of the Nile towards the lake of Galilee. We passed through the valley of the “seed of God” also called Jezreel, very fertile plain with abundance of agriculture. From the bus we saw rows and rows of cultivated fields. Agriculture is the highest export of Israel and a huge source of income. We passed through the land of Gideon
Finally we left the plains of Jezreel up to Nazareth.

Story of two Churches and Mary’s well

In Nazareth, there are two Churches of the annunciation. One belongs to the Greek Orthodox, who claims that the first apparition of Arc Angel Gabriel to Mary took place at the well whilst she was fetching water; she took fright and ran to her house. It was at the second apparition that she was finally calm enough to listen to the Angel and thus the orthodox built a Church near the well, and to give tourist something to see, they diverted the spring that fed the original Mary’s well to the Church, so Mary’s well is no longer flowing because this.

Pictures of Mary’s well

Mary’s well
Our guide, Oliver explains why Mary’s well is dry

Sad and unfortunately, this the only spring of fresh water in Nazareth, and they are using it up all for themselves.
We stopped to look the dry well of Mary, before proceeding to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, at least to have a look at the original water of the well.

Pictures of the Visit to the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation

Pictures ate the courtyard of the Greek Orthodox church of the annuciation
Seated inside the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation
Roof of the Church

The grievance between the Catholics and the Greek Orthodox goes back many century and many versions of the conflicts bear the bias of who is telling the story. Some say that the bone of contention was that the fourth crusaders sacked Byzantium, stole the true cross, crown of thorns, which led to the mutual excommunications between the two branches.

The synagogue that almost murdered Jesus

Next, we visited the 1st century synagogue where the boy Jesus and his father and mother often went to pray. It was a stone throw from Mary’s house. It was here that they wanted to throw him off the cliff after he had read the scroll. The story is told in Luke

It reads:
“Jesus returned to his hometown Nazareth, from Capernaum, and he went to the synagogue. The synagogue official gave him the scroll to read, they didn’t like his interpretation and they tried to cast him of a cliff.” Luke (4:16-29)

The Jews had a custom they called Bar mitzvah in which every boy who comes of age is given the scroll of the book of the prophet Isaiah to read and afterwards asked to explain or interpret the verse he had read for all in the synagogue. If he passes, he is included as one of the ten that can start a synagogue. Jesus was given the scroll and the people didn’t like how he interpreted it and wanted to kill him.

Church of the Annunciation


When we left the synagogue, we went straight the authentic Church of the Annunciation, which is next to the synagogue. According to an ancient tradition passed on by some Fathers of the Church, some relations of Jesus were still living in Nazareth in the 2nd century had preserved both the room in which the Angel Gabriel visited Mary, and the house of the Holy Family. There are written testimonies of pilgrims who visited the house in Nazareth in the 4th century when it was already a place venerated by Christians, complete with an altar.

Pictures of the Church of the Annunciation

Catholic Church of the Annunciation
Introduction from Saxum
Walls surrounding the Church is covered with beautiful paintings of Mary from all corner of the world
Entrance
Different depictions of Mary inside the Church
Side view of the Church
Sculptor of Mary as a young girl over the entrance

The Catholic Church of Annunciation the biggest, most magnificent church in the Middle East. It was built over the site of an earlier Byzantine-era and then Crusader-era church. Inside, the lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, the remains of the original childhood home of Mary. Scientific tests on the house in Loreto matches the one here, in Nazareth, likewise the graffito written on the walls and traces of oil found on the wall dating back to the time of Jesus are identical in both places.

On the front door of the Church, there is a depiction of the major events in Jesus’ life.

Pictures of the Front door of the Church

Inscriptions at the door
Designs on the wall
Pilgrims visiting the Church
Magnificent Image of our lady at the Annunciation from Philipines
magnificent depictions at the door ” the life of Mary”
Inside the upper floor
Church of the Annunciations is the biggest church in the middle east

We recited the Salve Regina inscribed on the wall on both sides of the main door. Above the door, there is a bronze sculptor of Mary as a young girl, looking towards Calvary, Jerusalem

Then on the arcades of the Church, there are paintings of Mary from different countries of the world; Germany, Japan, Philippines and so on.
In 1964, when the Church was being built, the Pope Paul VI wondered if it was necessary to have such a big Church, in such a small town, but today Christians of Nazareth are grateful because they didn’t know that they would become a minority

The Church consists of two floors. The ground floor is at the level of the grotto of the 1st century house where Mary lived, and the upper floor of the Church has many stained glass windows and paintings of Mary donated from every country in the world.

The altar piece is a magnificent painting of heaven with all the saints and martyrs walking towards eternal happiness with Mary depicted in an amazing representation as giving birth to the Church.

Pictures of the upper floor

Preparing for Mass at the Upper floor
dome of the Church

On the ground floor is original room that Mary was in when the Angel visited her. Its white stone wall blackened with age and behind a small stair case going to an upper floor

Pictures of ground floor and grotto of Mary’s house

Loswer floor, house of Mary 1st Century
Reaching up to take a shot
Standing in front of Mary’s house
Panoramic view of Mary’s house
Shot at the circle from which Mary’s house can be seen from upper floor

Nazareth means the of spring water. It is amazing how insignificant this little town had been before the birth of Jesus, for instance, the Old Testament never mentioned Nazareth, neither does Josephus, the Jewish historian, who is reputed to record anything important to the Jews. It is marvelous that God has chooses such a lowly place to come down to meet us. This should encourage everyone one who feels left behind, that God chooses the lowly and enfeebled things of this world to confound the rich and the powerful.

We attended Mass at the upper floor of the Church of Annunciation by 11 am

Pictures of the Mass

At exactly 12 noon, the bells of the Church of the Annunciation started ringing out melodies and the scene of the annunciation was reenacted as the Franciscans gave a benediction from inside the house of Nazareth while we stood aside and watched.

Pictures of Noon Benediction

Like we said earlier, this Church is the biggest Church in the Middle East, and it therefore the envy of all. In 2002, Muslims raised money to build a big mosque directly in front of the Church of the annunciation. The intended that mosque would be bigger and over shadow her glory.

The day the foundation, the fundamentalist Muslims were gleefully shouting in unison “Today Nazareth, tomorrow the world!”
But things quickly went out of control, and riots broke out, many Christian shops were burnt and looted causing the Israeli government intervene and cancel the project, forcing the Muslim to stop the constructions and uprooted the foundation already begun.

The city of Nazareth is run by Muslim families, thus sanitation is poor, laws are not enforced, and the town is badly run. In the ottoman where here for 400 yrs and they really didn’t care about the local population, so no hospitals where built. Thanks to foreign countries that mercifully came and built and built hospitals, there might not have been any hospitals in Nazareth today.

There’s a minaret and a mosque on the highest point in Nazareth. How it happened was that 23 yrs ago, a family asked if they could hire this highest point, and the owner said yes, the family lived there for a few months and then gradually built a mosque on top of the peak. The problem is that once a mosque is built, it’s impossible to remove it. That place becomes holy ground. That’s why the foundation of the one that they attempted to build over the Church of annunciation had to be removed. So they built the mosque by stealth.

After spending time in the Church of the annunciation, we walked over to another Church, called the Church of St. Joseph. It is said that the workshop in which Joseph the carpenter and the foster father of Jesus was located here. What we saw were ritual baths and what looked like a place for baptism. The workshop must have been converted into a church during the first century and hence the ritual baths.

Pictures of the Church of St Joseph

Ritual births in the Church of St. Joseph

Cana

We finally left Nazareth about 1 pm to go to Cana. We passed by the ancient Roman town of Sephoris. This town is not mentioned in bible but was very rich and close to Nazareth. Perhaps, some of Joseph’s clients lived there since it was just 3km from Nazareth and perhaps Jesus used to accompany his father there to make deliveries. Sephoris was rich Roman city, and Jesus must have seen luxurious life, huge balcony and opulence, in contrast to his cave like home in Nazareth.

Pictures on the road to Cana

Pilgrims who came to renew there marriage vows

When we entered the city of Cana, we saw that all the shops here advertise “the Wine of Cana,” the Miracle of Jesus in Cana. Archeologically, there is no certainty of the authenticity of this Cana and as it where, many other Canas have cropped up, with competing claims of being the authentic Cana of scriptures. Still, it was good to be here.

Pictures of Church of Cana

Underneath the Church at Cana

As we were at Church of Cana, a group of people came to renew their marriage vows.
Cana is about the superabundance of the grace of sacraments. We bought the wine of Cana, sweet wine

Mt. Tabor


When we left the Church of Cana, our next destination was Mount Tabor.
Tabor is on the outskirts of Cana and before we could leave Cana and get to the outskirts, we encountered lots of traffic because the Muslims were coming from the mosque and school children closing from school.

Pictures of the road to Mt. Tabor

Mt Tabor
Tabor and surrounding district
On the bus up Tabor
Church of Transfiguration at the back ground

We passed by the Bedouin town of Shibli is set at the foot of Mount Tabor. It consists of a single clan, and everyone has the same surname and they intermarry between themselves. This is not only a health hazard but a logistic nightmare for a postman who has to deliver parcels to them.

We had a quick lunch at the base of Mt. Tabor before boarding taxis that took us up to the peak of Mt Tabor. Tabor is 640m above sea level and this is where Jesus transfigured before three of his apostles, Peter James and John. Moses and Elijah appear during the transfiguration. This is also where in the Old Testament, Deborah fought and killed the Canaanites.

Church of Mt. Tabor

Nowhere in the gospel is the Tabor mentioned, yet Jesus chose this mount to display his glory to the apostles to strengthen them for his coming passion and death. The Byzantines have originally built a church at this peak. The crusaders also built a church here. They were all knocked down by the Muslims until the Franciscans came and bought the property and gave the contract to the same architect that built Shepherd fields, and many others churches

Pictures of Inside the Church of Mt. Tabor

Entering the Church of Transfiguration
A group of south African pilgrims having Mass
Painting of Moses on the Roof of the Church
Views from the hieght of Tabor
Church of transfiguration

On the left inside the church, is the Chapel of Moses with Ray of light.
Then the Chapel of Elijah, with his animals.
At the bottom of the Church, a beautiful image of Jesus transfiguration. On the longest day, the light shines in on this image and it shimmering and beautiful. The roof is made of alabaster, because the architecture wanted people to be transfigured.

It is said that every year, a batch of young drug addicts come here from Italy, working and praying to be transformed.

Why did the Lord choose to transfigure himself in a place that was so far from where he lived and required a strenuous physical effort over a long trail?” Blessed Alvaro gives the answer himself, saying “that it was probably so that we could see with our own eyes that to reach God, we also have to put in a human effort that is physical sometimes.”








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