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Basilica of the Annunciation has remained pilgrimage site since the very beginning

By Catholic Online
February 13th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth incorporates the cave in which the Virgin Mary received word that she would soon give birth to the Christ child. The site has received countless visitors since the very beginning, a major pilgrimage destination for the faithful the world over.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Originally, Nazareth was a small Jewish town during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Evidence of Jewish converts to Christianity in Nazareth is provided by the historian Africanus in the 3rd century and the first recorded pilgrimage to Nazareth is attested in the late 4th century.

The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth incorporates the cave in which the Virgin Mary received word that she would soon give birth to the Christ child. The site has received countless visitors since the very beginning, a major pilgrimage destination for the faithful the world over.

The cave that is enshrined inside the basilica was identified no later than the 4th century as the place of the Annunciation. A church probably existed by the early 4th century, as an altar is referred to circa 384 AD and a church is mentioned by at least 570 AD.

A Byzantine church has been excavated beneath the current church, which dates from the 4th or 5th century. It had three aisles, a single projecting apse and a large atrium. The Byzantine church on the site of the Annunciation survived as late as the 9th century, or around 808 AD. The church was apparently destroyed before or during the Crusades. The Abbot Daniel recorded in 1106-08 that it had been destroyed -- but thoroughly rebuilt by Tancred and the Franks.

The Franciscans established a monastery in Nazareth in the 14th century and appear to have gained control of the holy site for a period in the mid-16th century. They restored and occupied the former bishop's palace and began to repair the church in 1620. The Franciscans were expelled several times throughout the 1600s. In 1730 the Franciscans finally completed a new church, which was enlarged in 1871.

Today, the current Church of the Annunciation is topped with a uniquely-shaped concrete dome 55 meters high. Its shape is based on the Madonna lily, a symbol of the Virgin Mary. The basilica inside is composed of an upper church and a lower church. The vast upper church is decorated with mosaics of the Virgin donated by communities from around the world.

The lower church centers on the Grotto or Cave of the Annunciation, where the angelic announcement to Mary is believed to have occurred.

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