Sunday, October 4, 2015

Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee

Second consecutive very early wake up call, to set out for our visit to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.  Our first stop was at the Basilica of the Annunciation, situated at the site that it's believed an angel appeared to Mary and gave her The Good News, that she was going to be the mother to the Son of God.  This is a scene which has been portrayed in countless pieces of religious art - my favorite being this one, in the National Gallery in London:

The church was built in 1969 over the site of two previous churches, one Byzantine and the other a Crusader-era church.  The Modern church sanctuary is reached by climbing a set of exterior stairs, and is decorated with depictions of the Virgin from various countries / cultures, each done by an artist from that country.  The results are breathtaking:

One of my favorites (of course!) Our Lady of Guadalupe from Mexico.  Legend has it that Our Lady appeared to the peasant Juan Diego in the 1500's; if memory serves her image was the first to depict The Virgin as a non-white European.  By another miracle, I was able to text this image, real time, to my mother back in California and share the moment with her!!!

This gorgeous mosaic is from Japan; these first two examples show me how the image / idea of Madonna and Child transcend borders

This image is the French contribution to the collection

The stunning piece from the USA
The cave believed to have been the home of Mary

Detail of the Virgin from Brazil
From the main sanctuary, there are stairs to descend to the Grotto, which contains a shrine around a large rock within a cave where it is believed that Mary lived when she received the good news.  The architecture permits natural light to flow into the grotto; one can also view the dome of the main sanctuary from the grotto.  The struts supporting the ceiling are designed to resemble a manger roof, and the floor shows the Jerusalem Cross. 

From the grotto, one walks outside and can view an ongoing archaeological excavation being constructed at the site. 

Rich with Moshe, our charming guide for the day.  Although Jewish he had a wonderful reverence and appreciation for the spirituality associated with the Christian sites we visited. 

From the Basilica we walked a few steps to the adjacent St. Joseph's Church, which is built over what is believed to be the workshop of Joseph the Carpenter, husband of Mary.  Walking over we had a real Kumbaya moment - Real, as Sunday Mass was in session and the congregation was singing Kumbaya.  Magical.  Since Mass was in progress, we took a side door and walked down a corridor that led to another grotto behind this church, which is in fact an ancient workshop.  

As we drove out of Nazareth for our next visit, Rich spotted this:

Our next visit was to the hauntingly beautiful and tranquil Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.  The mountain is crowned with the 1930's era Church of the Beatitudes, which is set in beautiful gardens with spectacular views of the surrounding land and seascapes.  The church is octagonal, with each side representing one of the eight Beatitudes:

Blessed are...the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are....those who mourn: for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are....the meek: for they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are....those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. 
Blessed are....the merciful: for they will be shown mercy
Blessed are....the pure in heart: for they will see God. 
Blessed are....the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. 
Blessed are....those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

One of my favorites, Pope John Paul II, preached here, and left these for the church

View of the Sea of Galilee from the Loggia outside the Church of Beatitudes

We left this special spot to head for the Sea of Galilee, specifically to the spot where Jesus is said to have performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, The Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter.  We experienced another lovely moment, as a group of central American pilgrims were singing softly as we approached the church. 

Shore of the Sea of Galilee

Church of the Primacy

This is the rock where the local people were said to have laid the loaves and fishes that Jesus multiplied

After a brief stop at the Sea of Galilee, we were off for Capernaum or the City of Christ.  This is a well preserved village where it's believed Jesus lived and preached. It is also believed to have been home to the Apostles Simon (Peter,) Andrew, James and John.  The spot is dominated by a museum built over the home said to be of Saint Peter, as well as an ancient synagogue.  

Floor of the school (Midrash) adjacent to the synagogue.  These carvings are game boards for the children; our guide said that Israeli children still play these games today.  Interestingly Midrash has the same root word as Madrassa, the word used today for Islamic schools. 

Interior of the Synagogue

Museum over ruins reported to be those of the home of St. Peter
From here we headed to Yardenit, the spot on the Jordan River where it's believed that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.  As one approaches the site there are inscriptions on the wall with the words Jesus is said to have heard from heavenly voices as he emerged from the waters after his baptism:  ‘Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.”  

Those of us who dipped our toes in the water had them nibbled by these little fishies

After this very full day, it was time to head back to the ship and sail out of Haifa, bound for Port Said, Egypt.  We sailed away as the sun was setting on Haifa - a lovely farewell to Israel.


  1. Please feel free to send current updates on your blog. This is wonderful!

  2. The Sea of Galilee and Jordan River are beautiful. The poem about Jesus being baptized is heartwarming. An inspiration of faith!