Day Three on a Good Shepherd Travel Tour

Day Three of our tour of the Holy Land and Jordan will take us into Galilee to visit Nazareth, the home of Jesus’ mother, Mary; Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle of turning water into wine; and the site of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor.

ABOUT NAZARETH [1, 2]

“[Joseph] withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that [Jesus] would be called a Nazarene.” – Matthew 2:22-23
Located about 20 miles east of the Mediterranean and 15 miles west of Lake Gennesareth, Nazareth is five miles west of Mount Tabor and is the highest point in southern Galilee.

Built on the southeastern slope of a ridge at 1,300 feet above sea level, Nazareth has a commanding southern view of the valley of Jezreel. The Hebrew name of Nazareth (natzar: to watch or guard) is said to have come from its defense of Galilee. 

Nazareth was a small and isolated village in the time of Jesus; its population estimated to be less than 200. Today, Nazareth is home to over 60,000 Israeli Arabs. Thousands more Jewish residents live in Upper Nazareth.

Jesus spent His youth in Nazareth before beginning His ministry around the age of 30. After moving to Capernaum Jesus returned to Nazareth twice to teach in the synagogue, but was rejected both times (Mark 6, Luke 4). On one visit, people were so outraged at Jesus that they tried to throw Him off a cliff.

ABOUT THE BASILICA OF THE ANNUNCIATION [3]

“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.” – Luke 1:26-27

The Basilica of the Annunciation was established at the site believed to be where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to a son named Jesus. Mary was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph at that time. (Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-21). 

Today, the Basilica is a two-story building constructed in 1969 on top of the site of a Byzantine-era church, and later, a Crusader-era church. The lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, believed to be the remains of Mary’s childhood home. The church is designated as a minor basilica and is considered sacred in some Christian circles.

The first shrine dates back to the middle of the 4th century and includes an altar in the cave where Mary is believed to have lived. Emperor Constantine I commissioned the construction of a larger structure. He was directed by his mother, Saint Helena, to establish churches commemorating important events in the life of  Jesus.

The Church of the Annunciation was established around the same time as the Church of the Nativity (the birthplace of Jesus) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jesus’ tomb). It is believed that a version of the Church of the Annunciation existed around 570 AD, but it was later destroyed after the Muslim conquest of Palestine in the 7th century.

The second church was built over the ruins of the Byzantine church during the Crusades after Tancred, Italo-Norman leader of the First Crusade, took over Nazareth in 1102. The church was never completed.

Five Romanesque capitals, carved by French artists around 1187, were discovered during excavations in 1909. The capitals had never been installed because word had reached Nazareth that Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt, had been victorious in the Battle of Hittin and took control of Palestine. However, Franciscan priests were allowed to remain in Nazareth to oversee the church.

In 1260, Baybars, the Fourth Sultan of Egypt, and his Mamluk army destroyed the church in an attack on Nazareth. A small number of Franciscans managed to stay until the fall of Acre in 1291. In the three centuries that followed, the Franciscans were in and out of Nazareth due to the constant political instability of the area. Franciscan accounts document expulsion in 1363, return in 1468, and a massacre of some of their members in 1542. The remaining Franciscans, with support from local Christians, helped care for the church.

When the Franciscans returned in 1620, they enclosed the holy grotto venerated as the house of Mary. In 1730, a new church became a gathering place for the Latin community. It was enlarged in 1877, then demolished in 1954 for the construction of a new church designed by Italian architect Giovanni Muzio. The church was built by the Israeli firm Solel Boneh during 1960-69 and dedicated by Pope Paul VI in 1964. It remains under the control of the Franciscans and is the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East.

ABOUT CANA OF GALILEE [4, 5]

“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which He revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” – John 2:11

Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine during a wedding is said to have occurred in Cana in Galilee: (John 2:1-11). Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding feast. After all the wine had been drunk, Jesus then performed his first miracle after his mother, Mary, implored him.

“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

Mary persisted and Jesus turned more than 550 liters of water (the equivalent of  over 730 bottles) into fine wine, saving the celebration.

According to Christian theology Jesus’ first miracle symbolizes the sanctity of marriage. Jesus intervened, saving the wedding hosts from an embarrassing situation and allowing for humble rejoicing amongst the wedding guests. (Catholic Encyclopedia).

The geographical location of Cana has been disputed and there are three potential sites.

The commemoration of the miracle takes place at Kefer-Kenna, three miles from Nazareth.

Based on the testimony of early pilgrims, such as St. Jerome, the Franciscans established themselves in Kefer-Kenna in 1641. It was their belief that excavations recovered beneath the present church in the early 1900s confirm the presence of a Jewish-Christian synagogue.

Evidence collected from the site includes the remains of living structures from the 1st century, a basilica and a small stone cistern.

Naturally, Kafr Cana has become a coveted venue for weddings and wedding vow renewals and Cana wine is a hot commodity. Over 200,000 tourists visit Kafr Cana annually. Streets in the center of town have been renovated and a promenade with plazas and rest spots has been built to accommodate the influx of tourists. Facades and courtyards have been attractively refinished. Commercial and hotel facilities have been constructed allowing for visitors to experience both the luxury of modern tourism and a meaningful religious experience.

ABOUT MOUNT TABOR [6, 7]

“‘As I live,’ declares the King Whose name is the Lord of hosts, ‘Surely one shall come who looms up like Tabor among the mountains, or like Carmel by the sea’” – Jeremiah 46:18
Mount Tabor is located 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee, five and one-half miles east of Nazareth, and resides on the northeastern corner of the Jezreel Valley. It is an isolated small mountain rising 2,011 feet above sea level surrounded by the neighboring Nazareth mountains.

Mount Tabor boasts a magnificent view of Jezreel Valley and Givat Hamoreh and Mount Hermon to the north (as written in Psalms: "Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name"). An important fortress during the First and Second Temple, Greek, Roman and Crusaders times, Mount Tabor is strategically located on a main north-south ancient road.

For most Christians it is a Holy mountain, known as the Mount of Transfiguration. Another candidate for the Transfiguration site is Hermon--the tallest mountain in Israel. While both are also referred to as high mountains, Tabor is closer to the center of Jesus’ activities, and is referred as "the mountain" in other biblical texts.

ABOUT CHURCH OF THE TRANSFIGURATION [8]

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” – Matthew 17:1

The Church of the Transfiguration resides at the summit of Mount Tabor. According to Matthew 17:1-13 and Mark 9:2, the Transfiguration of Christ is thought to have taken place here—a vital  event recorded in the Gospels when Jesus appears to Moses and Elijah on a mountain.

Today, the Church of Transfiguration is located within the complex of  a Franciscan monastery, having been most recently restored by the architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1924. It is considered to be one of the most impressive churches existing in the Holy Land. Barluzzi built the church directly on the ruins of two ancient churches--a Byzantine and a 12th-century church of the Crusader Kingdom time period. This magnificent structure holds three grottoes which belong to the Crusader Church. There are three chapels, each with a small altar or tabernacle. These are said to represent three huts--one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah--which Peter had desired to build.

The eastern wing of the church holds the Grotto of Christ.  A lower level accessible by steps, contains a sanctuary covered today with a vault. In the western portion, or south tower, of the church resides the Chapel of Elijah and the Chapel of Moses is located in the north tower.

A beautiful mosaic in the upper part of the church lies on gold ground and represents the Transfiguration. Some churches recognize the “Day of Transfiguration” annually on August 6th, when the sun shines directly on a glass plate, illuminating the mosaic for a brief time.

Article Resources:

[1] http://virtualreligion.net/iho/nazareth.html  

[2] http://www.bibleplaces.com/nazareth/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_the_Annunciation -

[4] http://www.seetheholyland.net/cana/

[5] http://www.goisrael.com/Tourism_Eng/WhereToGo/North/Pages/Cana%20%20%20chr.aspx

[6] http://www.biblewalks.com/sites/TaborFranciscan.html

[7] http://www.bibleplaces.com/mounttabor/

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Transfiguration