Of all the pilgrim sites in Israel/Palestine, Nazareth is surely one of the places that has changed the most in the past 2000 years. Mary’s hometown probably contained no more than 40 or 50 homes, lived in by just a handful of families, when Jesus was a boy. It was Nowheresville, as indicated by Nathanael’s question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
During our three days in the Galilee region, our pilgrim group visited Nazareth, now a town of about 75,000 people. We toured the excavations under the Sisters of Nazareth Convent. In the late 19th century, builders discovered several underground layers: a Crusader church was built on a Byzantine church from the 1st or 2nd century. And under that (as Lisa mentioned in an earlier article): the remains of a home from the first century.
It is nearly impossible in the Holy Land to say with any certainty “this is where Jesus thus-and-so.” One has to rely heavily on the traditions of thousands of years of pilgrims, and extrapolation of other things like historical records and archaeology.
But here’s the thing: Tradition has caused this place to be highly preserved and revered since Jesus’ day. Untold numbers of pilgrims have believed that this is the home of the Holy Family. Whether or not that is a fact, history knows that the town was so small, Jesus certainly knew this home.
Furthermore, there is a tomb carved under the house, which is unheard of: ancient Jews never buried anyone within the city, unless one was a king or a “Just Man.” The tomb of Joseph, maybe, beneath his family home?
Our guide was a 20-something French woman who clearly believes this is the boy Jesus’ house. This was a very dear experience.
Just to round out the story, about 200 yards from the home under the convent we visited what is—by tradition—the home where Gabriel approached Mary. That house is now, of course, also in the lower level of a church: the Basilica of the Annunciation.
Even in a land where holy places are often disputed, this was a rare and spiritually enriching, tangible experience of Jesus of Nazareth.