We left Jerusalem early in the morning and spent about an hour and a half in the bus to get to Caesarea.
Our four-day tour of northern Israel began there, but we will spend three nights in Nazareth and take day trips out to the other cities. This is a self-guided tour, so transportation is provided, as well as the arrangements with the Nazareth hostel, but once at museums or small towns we hope off the bus and explore by ourselves. It’s nice to be independent, but it would also be great if the bus driver talked more about the stops before he dropped us off. However, this is half the price of a religious tour (our first choice). We decided to do this type of tour and look up our questions on the internet later. Both of us paid attention in Sunday School, so it can’t be that confusing, right? Haha.
We began in the ruins of Caesarea. There is little left of the town besides the harbor and remains of the Byzantine and Crusader periods.
Jordan sits in Herod’s theater above. Herod (like the evil Herod from the Christmas story) designed, planned, and built this town and dedicated it to Caesar. I am near the ruins of Herod’s temple now. The Mediterranean Sea is behind me.
From there we journeyed on to Nazareth. Today Nazareth is a small town of around 80,000 (at least that’s what a local told me), of Arabs. Very few Jews (ethnic or religious) live in Nazareth. Perhaps so many Arabs live here because it’s in northern Israel, not far from the Lebanese border. I think these Arabs (some are Palestinian Arab) have lived here for a very long time, before Israel was a state. Today, about 70% of the population is Muslim (no surprise because almost all of the town is Arab) and 30% Christian. I believe the religion percentages used to be flipped, Christians outnumbering Muslims, until there was some violence near Lebanon and many Christians moved further south. So here, there are churches and mosques side by side, with Christian Arabs keeping the churches open. I think it must be very difficult sometimes to be a Christian Arab (especially a Christian Palestinian Arab!), but I am so grateful for them and what they do here in Israel.
We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Catholics believe Gabriel visited Mary. It is built directly over the center of 1st century Nazareth. Below the plaza you can view the ruins of houses. Inside the church, where the altar is on the main floor, the Franciscans have left part of the ruins open and viewable behind the altar. The Greek Orthodox and the Copts have churches where they think the annunciation happened, but we ran out of time to visit those.
The basilica’s outer walls are decorated with artwork of Mary and Jesus. Many countries sent one piece of their own. Above is a very famous Madonna and Child from the Greek tradition. Below is something a little less known.
It was really neat to see each culture’s imaginings of Mary and Jesus–a great reminder that, in a way, Jesus is all of our ethnicities and created us to be a mosaic of beautiful colors and cultures that, pieced together, all point directly to him.
Afterward, we visited Nazareth Village. A tourist attraction by the YMCA and run by local Christians, it offers visitors a chance to see the Nazareth Jesus grew up in.
There were all the typical animals in the village, as well as living history actors that tended the animals, crafted carpentry, and wove clothing. There is even a rooster that thinks he is a sheep! It was hilarious to see this rooster walk around with the sheep and goats, completely clueless that he’s not a part of the herd.
Our guide said that “Deek” (Arabic for rooster) has hens and chicks of his own, but prefers to be with the herd. He walks around with them, tries to head butt the rams, and waits at the sheep’s pen in the morning to be let out with the shepherd.
Within the village we were able to see homes, a typical small-town synagogue, and oil press.
We greatly enjoyed ourselves at the little living history museum!
We ended the day at the Centre International de Marie. This is across the street from the Basilica, and is run by the Chemin Neuf Community, a French Catholic organization. A volunteer told us that the center was begun by a Frenchman who believed that Mary should not be the dividing point among Christians, but a point of unity. He built the center, and because of that belief the chapel on the top floor is called the Chapel of Unity. We went through their 55-minute interactive movie about Jesus’ life through the eyes of Mary, and it was quite moving. It started with the prophecies and went all the way to the resurrection, and by the end I was sniffling. This is why I still have not watched “The Passion of the Christ.” I think if I watched that I would be a wreck for the next three days. The center is run by donation only, and I think if you’re in the area it’s well worth an hour visit. And you may even get your photo on their facebook page, like us!
It was uncommonly cold, and since night was falling we rushed back to our hostel for warmth. Everyone we meet in Nazareth has assured us that “this weather isn’t normal! It hasn’t been this cold in over 10 years!” but that doesn’t exactly change the fact that we’re sleeping in our coats again. Oh, well, I suppose the more dramatic the experience the better the story afterward. And hey, at least we missed the snow from last Saturday! 🙂