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26 December 2011

Nazareth

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Basilica of the Annunciation

The mystery of the Incarnation begins here with the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary, a young woman of Nazareth in the Galilee. For the Christian faith, the child who was conceived in her is the Christ and the son of God. The modern basilica contains the precious remains of "Mary’s House", together with other testimonies to the long history of the Christian presence.

Basilica of the Annunciation
- Convento di Terra Santa
- P.O.Box 23
- 16100 Nazareth
- Israel

- Tel. 04-657.25.01
- Fax. 04-646.02.03

The Christian tradition

Nazareth "because of which the Christ was called a Nazarene, and we also... in antiquity were called Nazarenes" (Eusebius of Caesarea, beginning of the 4th century), figures already in the itinerary of the holy places that Saint Jerome proposed to the Roman matron Marcella (end of the 4th century): "We are going to Nazareth and we will see, as it name suggests, the flower of the Galilee". The anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza (ca. 570 A. D.), tells us of a church built on the very site of Mary’s house. The modest Byzantine church (5th century) was replaced in the Crusader period (12th century) with a large basilica that the Caliph Baybars destroyed in 1263. Protecting the grotto of the Annunciation remained only a small chapel "in memory of humility and poverty", as the Dominican friar Ricoldo di Monte Croce put it (1294). The lower basilica preserves the most sacred relics. The grotto of the Annunciation underwent many changes over the centuries, but was originally part of a residential complex whose remains extend to the north of the present-day basilica. Another small grotto, with ancient pilgrims’ pictures and graffiti on its walls, adjoins it on the west. Mosaic floors on which the cross is frequently represented in various forms, decorate a religious building that predates the Byzantine basilica (church-synagoge, 3rd-4th century). Numerous architectural elements that are part of these older buildings were discovered out of position, showing religious symbols and graffiti, among which should be noted "Ch(air)e [Ave] Maria". The graffiti are preserved in the sanctuary’s museum, where sculptures from the Crusader basilica, particularly five magnificent capitals that were found in the area of the old Franciscan convent, are also displayed.

The Franciscans gained possession of the sanctuary in 1620, though the efforts of the Custos of the Holy Land, Tommaso Obicini and the benevolence of the Druze emir Fakr ed-Din, prince of Sidon. In 1730 a small church could be built, which would last, with some modifications, until 1954. That year it was decided to undertake archaeological excavations, led by Father Bellarmino Bagatti, and to build the modern basilica (architect - G. Muzio) that was inaugurated in 1969.

The Site

Walls and ceiling of the Holy Grotto (indicated by the letter B on the above diagram). Over the centuries, the grotto has always been venerated as part of Mary’s house.

Biblical texts

The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!" Then he said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

(Isaiah 7:10-14)

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, 11 and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived 13 a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God." Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

(Luke 1:26-38)

The announcement made to Mary does not signal the beginning of the history of salvation, but reveals an event that the human mind cannot imagine. To the believer, ic can be said, the beginning of the mystery of Christ, where "mystery" should not be understood superficially as something obscure, or as a way to veil a reality, or as a euphemism for not being able to explain the thing. A mystery is that which overwhelms man in his relationship with God, thoughts that are not those of man. Ahaz put his faith in man and not in God: his false “fear of God” exposed the hypocrisy of his faith. Isaiah’s prophecy breaks all the patterns. Not only will God, on his own initiative, give a sign that will guarantee the davidic descendance, but the birth of the Savior will be from a virgin. This virgin is Mary of Nazareth. The angel Gabriel hails her as "full of grace" and Mary agrees to become the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. The gospel does not say when the Holy Spirt descended on Mary and caused her to conceive Emmanuel. In any case, we can intuit from the account that the conception of the Son was at the moment of Mary’s assent, which, perhaps, definitively brought to light the mission entrusted to her by God in those moments, if not yet in all its particulars. The natural course of the pregnancy is traced against the background of the visit to Elizabeth and the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. Jesus is the Savior, the mediator of the new alliance that he established with us in offering himself in obedience to the Father’s will.

The "Angelus" prayer

The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
- And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
- Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary...

And the Word was made Flesh:
- And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary...

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,Prega per noi, santa Madre di Dio.
- that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.