The city of Nazareth sits in a basin in the hills of the lower Galilee.
A small Muslim shrine remains and atop it is a call for Christians to convert.
The upper/main level of the church includes large mosaic representations of Mary and Jesus from many different countries.
Australia's contribution showing the actual annunciation.
Mexico with the Virgin of Guadalupe
Most unique/unusual/puzzling--the Untied States' contribution of Mary descending from heaven.
Down below are the remnants of Crusader and Byzantine Churches that mark the spot believed to be the home of Mary and the place of the annunciation.
Behind the altar is the grotto where tradition has Mary's home being located and where the Annunciation took place
In the portico surrounding the courtyard of the church are even more mosaics. The one from the Philippines is my favorite--in part because it actually depicts the annunciation (in a very Filipino sort of way).
The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel is built over Nazareth's spring. According to Orthodox tradition, Gabriel first came to Mary while she was retrieving water.
A fresco from inside the church shows that event. The fact that there are two sites of the annunciation means the Christians of Nazareth do not contend over sacred space as happens in Jerusalem where six different sects tensely share control of Church of the Holy Sepulcher and in Bethlehem were Armenians, Orthodox and Roman Catholics still content over control of the Church of the Nativity.
Down hill from the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation is Mary's Well. Water was eventually channeled from the Church (where you can still pull up water to drink from the spring) to this more accessible source.
A crowned bride and groom circle an altar as part of their marriage ceremony in the Orthodox Church.
Ein Kerem (lower third)--traditional home of Elisabeth, Zacharias and John
Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
Israeli soldiers in Manger Square Bethlehem 1989. Then and now there was not peace in the land as two competing peoples (Jews and Romans, Israelis and Palestinians) sought to control the land.
Israeli Police watching over the exit from Friday prayers at the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount (1997).
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
A group of BYU students walking the rocky hills of Samaria in 1982. This is one route the holy family could have taken to Jerusalem, but it meant going through rival Samaria.
The more likely route was via the Jordan River valley to Jericho and then up to Jerusalem through the Judean Wilderness. The three towers on the distant hill are on the crest of the Mt of Olives.
From the middle of the Judean Wilderness looking down to Jericho.
And looking up to Jerusalem. A rough route to travel, pregnant and on a donkey.
1982 view of Bethlehem to the southeast from kibbutz Ramat Rachel--southernmost Jerusalem.
View southward to Bethlehem from Shepherd's Field.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
A caravanseri (caravan hotel) in Acre/Akko.
A Caravanseri in Edirne Turkey. Historically these buildings are where caravans would stop in cities. The goods they carried, plus any animals they brought were stored in the lower rooms, while the travelers slept up on the second level. Some suggest that "Inns" at the time of Jesus were similar in structure. There may have been no room for Mary and Joseph to sleep up above and so the Holy Family found lodging down below with the animals. Makes sense.
The Church of the Nativity In Bethlehem (Steeples from l to r) Roman Catholic, Armenian, Greek Orthodox.
The view of Bethlehem with its many steeples and minarets from atop the Greek Orthodox Steeple.
This is the longest standing Church in the Holy Land--it being the only church not destroyed by the invading Persians in 614. It is built in a traditional Byzantine basilica style.
The roof of the Church of the Nativity leaked for years, but the three competing and jointly controlling powers could not agree on who should repair it. The Roman Catholics had the money to do it, but the Armenians and Greeks Orthodox felt that if the Catholics paid to fix it they would then claim control of everything underneath it. Fortunately, the neutral Israeli government contributed a new roof which helped to keep the delicate status quo in place.
Beneath this Greek Orthodox altar is a grotto where tradition has it Jesus was born.
The 16 pointed star marks the spot. Its removal by competing Catholics and Orthodox helped cause the Crimean War.
The place where the babe Jesus laid in a manger.
An adjacent grotto is where Jerome translated the Bible. Grottoes like this beneath or behind homes were also used to stable animals.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
No one knows where the shepherds were when the angels visited, so there are many options: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. Mormons even like to find their own fields. 1982 photo.
Catholic Chapel at Shepherd's field
Christian-Arab-Palestinian town of Beit Sahour with the Greek Orthodox Church of Shepherd's field.
From Beit Sahour looking up to Bethlehem.
Mormons love to come to this valley to the northwest of Beit Sahour to remember that first Christmas night.
The lovely valley between Jerusalem and Bethlehem has many olive trees and several watch towers.
Winter Semester 2010 BYU Jerusalem Center Students gather in March for a Christmas Program. Bethlehem is in the distance. The route of the separation wall/barrier/fence cuts across the middle of distant hillside.
Palestinian shepherd leading his flock near Gibeon (Jib) 1989.
Palestinian Shepherdess at the one time Jerusalem Sheep market out side the wall near the Pool of Bethesda. 1979.
Palestinian shepherd following his flock near Bethlehem 2010.
Sheep and Goats in the Judean Wilderness
BYU students and Emmett kids learning at Neot Kedumim how to be a shepherd. It is not as easy as it looks. They learned that you can't force sheep, that they often don't like to follow and the best way is to have a few good ewes who are trained to lead the way--shepherds can then follow.
By the time the third group gave it a try they were much better. No forcing, just gentling moving along with.
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called , which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Camel riding in Egypt.
First time on a camel is fun. To get up from its kneeling position it rocks up by first standing on its back legs (which throws you forward so hold on tight and scream) and then on its front legs.
Atop a camel selfie.
When Herod the king had heard he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Or they may have stopped at his palace--the green area in the distance--in Jericho.
Or at his hill top palace called the Herodian to the east of Bethlehem. I like the idea of this site because it overlooks the area where the shepherds may have been. Such irony that the mighty king missed the announcement.
The hill top palace.
Enterprising merchants in Bethlehem now sell these olive wood nativities where a wall keeps the wise men from visiting the Holy Family.
It is very unlikely that the visit of the wise men would have been to the same place the shepherd's visited. Still the Church of the Nativity is of interest to the wise men part of the story. Apparently the story is told that the Byzantine Church included a mosaic on the triangular shaped portion above the short entry just below the cross that depicted the wise men as Persians. When the Persians rampaged through the Byzantine controlled Holy Land they destroyed all of the churches on their way. Until they rode in to Bethlehem. There, the story goes, they looked up and saw their fellow countrymen--the magi. They could not bear to destroy them so they let the church stand.
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
While there is no contention over the site of the annunciation in Nazareth, there is a small kerfuffle over where the Holy Family lived once they returned from Egypt. The traditional site is the Church of St. Joseph (square white tower left center). It has Roman era granaries and other ruins beneath it so it could be the place. On the other side of the old part of town is the Sister of Nazareth convent--also with a squat square tower (lower center right). The sisters have uncovered beneath their convent Roman era ruin including a nice rolling stone tomb and a one time spring--which early pilgrims mentioned as being associated with the house of Joseph. The sisters (from one Roman Catholic Order) are reticent to challenge the claim of the Franciscans--also Catholics so they quietly make their case with great conviction.
The courtyard of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent--it also has a nice hospice.
The wonderful illustration used in this post come from the above book. It was first published in 1931 after the Petershams had traveled to the Holy Land for inspiration. I really enjoy their detail of holy land landscapes, garb, vegetation and architecture. All of the other photos in this blog are mine from my many trips to the Middle East.