Column: A brief tour of Nazareth


As we continue our tour through Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we come to Nazareth, where Jesus lived before he established his ministry around Capernaum.

Nazareth is about 25 miles southwest of Capernaum. At the time of Jesus, it was so small that it did appear on any maps. The road from Nazareth to Capernaum wound through the Arbel Pass and ended at the village of Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene, an early follower of Jesus. The caves above the Arbel Pass, where people had lived for thousands of years, were the site of a failed Jewish revolt against Roman rule in 40 B.C.

Today, Nazareth is the largest city in northern Israel, with a population of more than 75,000. Each year on March 25, nine months before Christmas, thousands of pilgrims come to Nazareth to remember the Annunciation, the time most Christians believe the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary she would conceive the Son of God.

Roman Catholics head for the Franciscan Basilica of the Annunciation, the largest church in the Middle East, built over a cave claimed to have been Mary’s home, with stairs leading to a room claimed to be Mary’s kitchen. A column is said to mark the spot where Gabriel stood while making his announcement. Greek Orthodox visitors go instead to the smaller Church of St. Gabriel, which lies over an ancient spring, also claimed to be where Gabriel appeared to Mary.

Travelers to Nazareth can stop at the Arbel Pass and see the caves where Jewish rebels held out before being thrown to their deaths by Roman soldiers. An ancient well still stands beside the road that Jesus probably took to Capernaum when residents of his hometown rejected him. Many sites in Israel claim to allow people to “walk in the footsteps of Jesus.” The Arbel Pass really does