Friday, December 18, 2015

Full day in Nazareth

We began the day early (not a lot of sleep for anyone, having gotten into bed after 1 am and having to be at breakfast at 8 am). Some of us were awakened at 5:15 by the calling to prayer at the Mosque. I love this, and woke happily listening, before falling back to sleep for a little more time.

After breakfast, we moved to a meeting room and went over group norms, an introduction to the culture of the area, and were shown a clip from a 60 minutes report from a few years ago on Christians in the Holy Land It was informative and helped us understand a bit of the context of where we are and of the state of Christianity here.

A true gift to me this trip is the amount of praying and reflecting we are each called to do. Scripture is read in each place we visit, context is given, and we are given time to "be" in that place.

We started out in Sepphoris, which dates back to the first century and later. We were given background on the area through a video in the visitor center, then we were on our way walking through the site. Of note is this is a national park here in Israel.

We learned of the creation of the roads -- east to west, and north to south. We saw the rough mosaics along the side of the road, which was a colonnade for people to walk along. This was a tempting foretaste of the mosaics that were awaiting us nearby.

We were able to spend time and view the Nile mosaic which represents the celebration of the Nile. It is composed of a number of scenes, each of which depicts a different event. To produce the mosaic, the artist used an average of 180 stones per square decimeter in 18 different colors and shades. Here is our guide Mark (a priest from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco) explaining part of the mosaic to us. I'll show more pictures of it later on.

We then walked along a path up to the ampitheater. There were local school children who were there on a field trip -- they were on some kind of writing assignment, but it didn't stop them from trying to perform on the stage! I didn't take a picture of them as it didn't seem right to me at the time to intrude on their fun!

We moved our attention to the partially reconstructed ampitheater seats -- the ampitheater could seat up to 4,000 people. Archeologists found certain portions of the original seating, which was augmented by reconstruction at the site. You can see a bit of that in the picture, with the unconstructed portion up the hill a bit.

We then moved to the oldest portion of the area, which was a series of homes which archeologists speculated were populated by Jewish families. You can see evidence of ritual baths among the ruins.

We then went to a building which was very interesting -- parts of it were dated to the 1st century because of the bevelling found on the stones. Here is Mark showing us the beveled stone. And yes, it is cold here -- and it was raining a bit.

Other parts were older, and in one portion of one wall the top of a sarcophagus was used to fill in as a repair early on. Many things were re-used and re-purposed! You can see the sarcophagus top  and pieces -- they are the ones with the ornate carving on them in this picture. 

Next we went into a building to see the most beautiful of the mosaics -- an area within a home with mosaics telling a story -- this is the dining room. There are areas of tile that are quite plain surrounding parts of the edges of the tiles -- this is where cushions would be placed for people to lounge on while eating (people didn't sit at tables then, but lounged sort of like on a chaise lounge).  You can see the more plain areas along the edge in this picture, with the mosaic which told a story ornately laid out in this picture. 

Here is a picture of a section of the ornate mosaic in this room. What was interesting to me is to think about Joseph and Jesus coming over here from Nazareth (which is on the other side of the hill) and taking on jobs in construction/carpentry. The first century building that went on needed skilled craftsmen -- would that have been work for Jesus and Joseph? Is this how Joseph kept his family fed? 

We then got back into the bus and headed to lunch. As usual, we began with "mezzes" -- hummus, babaganoush, salads, pita, and then were served an aromatic rice dish along with lamb kebabs and grilled chicken. Pastries and Turkish coffee were served afterwards.

We headed off to Mary's well. Being in Nazareth and hearing the portions of the gospel in which Mary and the annunciation are featured was an emotional time for me today. We visited the spot where there was an ancient city well -- which was modernized but still protected in later years. This well and the large tree behind it has become a symbol of the city of Nazareth -- you can see the well and the tree symbol in the storm drain covers throughout the city.

We went on to an Orthodox Church that has what it claims as the well that Mary drew her water from (maybe there were two??). The running water is covered except for a very small part, and people throw money and prayer requests down the well.

The church itself is beautiful -- and the icons written on the walls are magnificent. We heard the gospel read, and had a brief moment to view the icons/frescos before we had to leave -- there was a funeral about to begin. Here is Rebecca reading the gospel to us.

Chris Tumilty pointed out the icon/fresco of Joseph with Jesus on his shoulders -- which is an image that is not often seen -- most frequently it is Jesus in the arms of his mother. It was interesting to ponder anew the relationship that Joseph had with Jesus. If you look hard enough, you can see that in the image to the left above the doorway arch on the ceiling.

We left there and walked through the Christmas Bazaar down to a church which is built on top of what is believed to have been the synagogue in which Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in Nazareth. We talked about that part of the gospel and the anger Jesus arose in those who heard him that day. He left there -- cast out? Knowing he was unwanted there? Holding up a mirror to those city there was painful -- for them and for him?

We then walked through the narrow streets towards the Basilica of the Annunciation. I took one look at the streets, and as we wound around the shops and stalls that popped up and around us -- this is exactly the kind of street that Steve loves -- and he does!

I remembered the Church of the Annunciation as a special place -- and I will talk more about that later. While the parish church itself is modern and in the second level of this sanctuary, as you pass through these doors to see a wide expanse and go to the end where you walk down into a grotto. Tradition has it that this is the house (really a cave) in which Mary and her family lived. 

What is important here is that it is believed that people actually lived in caves in the hill sides. You can see this here. In the front of the dwelling the family lived in one large room. To protect their animals the animals would be brought in during the late afternoon/early evening hours and placed in the back of the dwelling/cave. We saw depictions of crèches as we walked around -- all of the Palestine Christian depictions were of the manger being a cave, not a wooden structure. Here are two pictures of this grotto area.

We then went upstairs to the area of the parish church to see the US depiction of the Annunciation or the Madonna and Child or Mary -- many, many countries are represented here in tiles -- I took pictures of many of them and include them at the end of this blog entry. Here is a picture of the parish church interior and of the US Madonna. 

When we left there we went out the back of the parish church and saw more of the excavation of the town near Mary which is underneath the parish grounds. 

We headed back to the guest house for a few minutes, which is a 2 minute walk from the Basilica. Some of us went down to a stall and ordered freshly squeezed pomegranate juice -- the pomegranates are ripe right now. All I can say is it was delicious! Here is the nice young man who made us our drinks showing me the inside of hte pomegranate he just cut in half.

We walked over after this to meet with the Rector of the Church in Nazareth, Fr. Neal Abu Rahmoun. Fr. Rahmoun told us a bit about himself and his background, and about the ministry of the church. He has helped form a coalition of Christian leaders to band together to voice their concerns as a Christian voice in Nazareth -- they are in the minority in terms of numbers, but there is great spirit here.

We headed back to the guest house and prepared to eat dinner. After dinner, we prayed and talked together about our experiences that day. We have broken up into small groups for more concentrated talk and sharing, which is greatly beneficial.

Today we talked and learned and prayed a great deal about Mary, Joseph and Jesus, but especially about Mary. She said YES to God -- profoundly courageous. We started looking at where we need to be profundly courageous in our own lives. This day has given me much to pray about and ponder . . .

I leave you with some of the pictures of this day -- I will try to annotate where they are:


Orthodox Church/Mary's well:

Church built over the synagogue:

Church of the Annunication:

Interesting in this picture in the Church of the Annunciation that Mary's home is basically in a cave but in this nativity scheme Jesus is born in a wooden structure.


Christ Church Nazareth:

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