As mentioned in our overview, we started our trip in northern Israel. For two nights we based ourselves in Tiberias, giving us close proximity to many of the Galilee sights in Nazareth and Capernaum.
As with nearly all ancient sites in Israel, there are disputes as to where events took place; we generally tried to just enjoy a site for what it represented.
We started our first day driving to Nazareth with a stop in Cana/Kafr Kanna, the Biblical site of Jesus turning water into wine. Not surprisingly, there is a church commemorating the event, known as the Franciscan Wedding Church. Getting to this church was one of our first driving adventures of the day (one where were I grew to loath the GPS we rented) as the church is located down a steep street/alleyway. As we drove up this ‘road’ it became more and more narrow with shops displaying olive wood carvings and communion wine crowding the street. Knowing the church was up ahead I scouted on foot and found it, then came back to the car so we could find a parking spot. As Leandra began her 5 point term (did I mention it was narrow?) a shopkeeper came by and told us we could park in his neighbors driveway. Sure, why not? My parents ended up buying a olive wood nativity scene from him so everyone was happy and we only had to walk a block to the church.
a service underway
Under the main chapel is an older crypt with Byzantine mosaics and other older objects unearthed in excavations.
After this brief detour we headed into Nazareth. Nazareth was a small village in Jesus’ time, but today it is a large bustling town with lots of traffic.
We found a centrally-located parking spot, and thanks to a helpful restaurant manager, were able to pay for our parking (the meter was only in Hebrew, though it is predominantly an Arab town). For future reference, 6 Shekels buys you two hours of parking, and change is not provided by the meter. Our first destination was the Basilica of the Annunciation, a presumed site where Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and told of her pregnancy. It took us a few routes to find the entrance to the complex which was on the far side of the main street. There are two main buildings, the lower is the Grotto of the Annunciation, upper is a larger more modern church, as well as a number of mosaics from all over the world in an outdoor covered walkway.
mosaic from the Slovak Republic- see more
Across a courtyard on the same site is St. Joseph Church, the presumed site of Joseph’s workshop. Underneath this church is a Roman-era cave that has been excavated.
A 10 minute walk from the Basilica you can see a small stone building holding a fountain; this is said to be Mary’s Well, the site of water for the ancient village of Nazareth. Sadly, on our viewing it was mostly filled with trash. Just around the corner from the well is the rival Greek Orthodox church of the Annunciation, known as Church of St. Gabriel.
This was the first of several Greek Orthodox churches on this trip, and the ornateness of these buildings overwhelms the senses.
Every surface that wasn’t painted seemed to hold candles or incense. This church also had a spring inside of it, also said to be Mary’s Spring, with many coins and prayers surrounding it. As it was approaching 2pm and we weren’t sure how many lunch options we would have after leaving Nazareth we decided to stop in for a snack at a nearby cafe. The rest of our exploration will be covered in a second post.