Nazareth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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The Spring
Ridge view

The spring in the Church of St. Gabriel

At the base of the northern slope are three springs, whose water flows 54 feet through a rock-cut channel into the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel (built in 1750, although containing Crusader remains). Here one can see and hear the water. It then continues underground for 500 feet to a structure called Mary's Well (first built in 1862 and now restored).

This gushing water is significant for two reasons. First, it is Nazareth's biggest source, flowing at the rate of 1000 gallons per hour by winter's end (250 in summer). Although there were several smaller springs around the village, and people had cisterns in their homes as well, Mary might well have come to this spring with other women of the village to do the washing. In the West Bank today, many villages still lack piped water (not by choice!), and one sees the women at the major spring on laundry day. Around them their children play. So you have at once the music of the spring, the talk of the women and the squealing of the children. That would have been the scene here also, 2000 years ago. Today we still have the music of the spring.

Secondly, there is an ancient tradition about this spring. In the Protoevangelium of James, a non-canonical gospel dating to the second century, we read that Mary was one of seven unblemished virgins from the line of David who were supposed to weave a new curtain for the Holy of Holies in the Temple. It was her task to spin purple and scarlet threads. (That is why, in the iconography, she is sometimes depicted spinning.) And then we read: "She took the jar and went out to fetch water. Then a voice spoke to her: 'Greetings, you who have received grace. The Lord is with you, you blessed among women.' She looked right and left to see where the voice came from and began to tremble. Then she went back into the house, put the jar aside, sat down, took the purple and began to spin. Then an angel stepped before her..."


The rest follows as in Luke 1:26-38. 
It doesn't say, of course, that Mary went so far as the spring. (In fact, Nazareth isn't mentioned in the Protoevangelium of James; the scene takes place near the Temple in Jerusalem.) The tradition developed, nonetheless, that the first Annunciation occurred here. There is also a logic in its happening near the spring. When we remember the First Testament passages where a stranger addresses a woman, it is done with propriety at a spring or well, for this is a public place. At the watering spot, Abraham's servant finds a bride for Isaac. So Jacob meets Rachel, and Moses, Zipporah. So too, Gabriel. Angels had not yet developed wings.