May 22

Morning brought the sounds of children gathering in the school courtyard below our window. We have a beautiful view over Nazareth town.

Our first stop today was at the church that honors Mary’s well, where some traditions remember her hearing the angel’s voice before running home to get the full message as recorded in Luke. In the basement of the church is a spring. I watched pilgrims from Ethiopia washing themselves at a spigot before praying at the spring. The painting above the well shows Mary with a tiny image of Jesus painted on her abdomen, representing the incarnation.

The Church of the Annunciation is a huge church, finished in 1969 and modern in design. Our guide explained some of the symbols on the front of the church: 4 evangelists, 4 elements (earth, water, fire, and air), and Latin inscriptions quoting Bible verses. On the walls of the church and in the courtyard around it are mosaics and sculptures from many countries representing Mary. The one from the USA is a woman in a metallic dress. On the terrace behind the house a large tree of life is represented in a modern mosaic floor.

While the church is modern, our guide says that Christians have venerated this site since the first century. In the center of a church is a grotto that is considered to have been Mary’s house, and behind the church excavations have revealed items from as far back as the 8th century B.C.E.: storage bins carved from the rock, millstones, etc. Now that we have seen caves where people live today, it is easier to imagine this as Mary’s home.

Next is St. Joseph’s Church. Again there is a grotto in the basement, with an ancient baptistry and an area that could have been a workshop.

When we scattered for lunch, I had a special treat. I was met by the man who had been the director of the lab at the Scottish Hospital when I volunteered here 40 years ago. We saw the lab (fully modernized in the intervening years), the chapel with a carpenter’s bench as an altar table, and the canteen with a picture of a boy holding 5 loaves of pita bread and two fish. We walked around the building where I had lived while I was here, and talked about friends and family.

The afternoon was spent touring Nazareth Village. A first-century winepress was unearthed here, and a village has been built up around it, with persons in period dress taking care of sheep, spinning wool, and using hand carpentry tools. A guide walked us through the village, explaining how olives were pressed and wine was made at that time. A meal of first-century foods delighted our palates (have you ever tasted apple slices dipped in date puree?). After visiting the gift shop we headed back to St. Margaret’s for a quiet evening.

–Martha Yoder Maust