Nazareth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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The Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation

The large church we see today is modern, built from 1954 - 1970, but it incorporates the ruins of its forebears. In commissioning the work, the Franciscans specified three M's: it should be modern (in the spirit of Vatican II), multinational and, above all, it should bring to expression the mystery of the Annunciation: that is, of the meeting between the divine and the human. The church is clearly modern in style. Its multi-nationality is manifest in its art works, showing how the peoples of the world envision Mary and child. Most interesting, however, is the way in which the architect, Giovanni Muzio, brought out the mystery. To see this, we need to study the structure:

The building contains two churches. The lower one, simple in form, is for the use of pilgrim groups, whereas the upper, elaborate church is for the local congregation. Between the two is a large octagonal opening called the "oculus," literally "eye."

The modest lower church may be said to represent the human dimension. It includes the ruins of a Byzantine church, and on its north side is a cave. Here tradition places the Annunciation. There are even two ancient pillars marking the places where Mary and the angel stood. More likely, though, the house was above, and only this cave-basement has remained. If we assume a continuous Christian presence in Nazareth from the 1st century, it is possible that the faithful kept the memory of where the event had occurred. 

The upper church expresses the divine dimension. First there is the light source: the dome itself, which blossoms over the oculus like a lily. (The Hebrew root of "Nazareth" means "blossoming," and the white lily is holy to Mary.) Behind the altar a huge mosaic shows Christ in glory, with Peter and Mary beside him, while below the Popes and pilgrims process. On the walls are the multinational representations of Mary and child. Over and over in the design one sees the letter M -- or AVM, for Ave Maria. The impression is one of articulate grandeur.

The divine is above, the human below, and between them is the oculus, the opening. If one stands in the upper church when a pilgrim group sings Mass in the lower, the song rises up, and in the air of the oculus one can sense the encounter.