Greek Orthodox Church of The Annunciation - History


The original church was likely constructed in the Byzantine era during the rule of Constantine I, at the site of a spring that was the village of Nazareth's only water supply. Such natural sources of water were a vital part of every Palestinian village, and the spring in Nazareth served as its local watering hole for approximately three thousand years.

The waters of the spring issue from a mountain known as Jabal as-Sikh and flow through an underground channel in the rock for 17 meters (56 ft) before emerging in the church. As recently as the 20th century, they continued on underground from there for another 130 meters to emerge in the public fountain known as Mary's Well. Today's Mary's Well is a non-functioning reconstruction of the original that was built for Nazareth's millennium celebrations in 2000.

A church located above a spring in Nazareth is mentioned in the writings of Arculf, a monk from Gaul, in 670. Abbot Daniel, the Russian Orthodox Christian priest who travelled in the Holy Land, describes a church located at this site between 1106-1108 as follows:

"Then we left this town and went a little way to the north east where we found a wonderful well which was deep and very cold, and to reach the water you must go deep down on a stairway. And above this well there is a church dedicated to the Archangel Gabriel, and it is round."

John Phocas, a Greek monk, writes in 1185 that in approaching Nazareth from the direction of Saffuriyya, "As soon as you enter the first gate of this large village, you will find a church of the Archangel Gabriel, and there is to be seen a little grotto on the left side of the altar in this church, in which a fountain wells up, pouring forth a transparent stream." Burchard of Mount Sion, the German Dominican who travelled extensively in the Middle East, also describes the spring inside the church during his visit to Nazareth in 1283. He notes that it is venerated by the local people, it is from this spring that, "it is said that the Boy Jesus ... often used to draw water."

In the 14th century writings of the Western traveller, James of Verona, the church is mentioned as being "two bow-shots away" from the (Catholic) Church of the Annunciation. James writes, "This was a decorous and beautiful chapel, but now is partly destroyed," and tells of drinking from the water of "a small clear spring" lying adjacent to the structure, which is said to be the same as that from which the Virgin Mary and Boy Jesus drank. Another account from this century by the Franciscan friar Nicolas of Poggibonsi (c. 1346-50) describes a fine church of St. Gabriel as being held by "Indians of Persia, who are called Alaphisi". Denys Pringle explains that he may have meant Nestorians or Ethiopians, since he refers to these communities in other writings as Indiani.

Accounts from the 16th century are contradictory. On the one hand, Boniface of Ragusa, an Italian priest who was in the region between 1551 and 1564, refers to people of "other nations" praying at the church. On the other hand, an account from 1563 by Luigi Vulcano della Padula describes the church as being in ruins, with only a small cave remaining as a memorial. At the end of the 16th century, Jan Kootwyk describes, "the ruins of an arched construction, of a certain sanctuary of the oriental Christians dedicated (it is said) to the Archangel Gabriel." Kootwyk also says that this structure was built on the foundations of the "House of Joseph".

A 17th century account by Quaresmi, the Italian writer and Orientalist, indicates that the church was not visible above ground, but that the top of the vault of a subterranean chamber that had remained intact was at ground level. In 1626, he descended into this chamber which he described as follows:

"Its length is 24 palms, its width 14 and its height or projection about 15 . In the middle of it, to the east, is an altar for celebrating Mass. There are many pictures in it, but they are well-nigh destroyed by dampness, age, and the ill will of infidels. In the farthest part of the chapel is the mouth of a spring, from which its water are said to flow forth. And there is a stair, and at one time, a door by which one used to ascend to a convent of nuns, which, so as the tradition goes, used to be above it in times gone by From time to time the Greeks hold services in it."

During the rule of Daher al-Omar (1730–1775) over the Galilee, the local Greek Orthodox community obtained a firman granting them control over the church, which had been occupied previously by the Franciscans and the Greek Catholic. Al-Omar granted this control to the local Arab Christian (or Palestinian Christian) community, rather than the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In 1750, they built a new church to the south side of the subterranean chamber, adding a wooden iconostasis (a screen decorated with icons) in 1767. The church continues to be run by the Arab Orthodox local council in Nazareth today.

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