Photo: St. Gabriel's Greek Orthodox Church in Nazareth
The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, situated in Nazareth, Israel, is a principal center of Christian pilgrimage. As the name suggests, the place where the church is located is believed to be where the angel Gabriel delivered God’s message to Virgin Mary.
The church, also known as the Church of St. Gabriel, is built over a subterranean spring where Mary was drawing water at the time of the Annunciation, according to the Eastern Orthodox belief. The spring water is still present inside the apse of the church.
The Book of Luke (1:27-35) does not describe the exact location where Gabriel delivered God’s message to Mary, but only mentions Nazareth. However, according to the second century text of James, when the angel addressed her and greeted her she looked around but could see any one. She returned home with the pot of water after which Gabriel appeared before her and informed her about the virgin birth of Jesus.
The church had previously been occupied by the Franciscans and the Greek Catholics. But Zahir al-Umar al-Zaydani, the ruler of Galilee, granted control of the church to the local Arab community of Greek Orthodox faith. Consequently, in 1750, they built a new church just beside the existing one. Since then the Arab Orthodox local council in Nazareth has been running the church.
The original church is believed to have been built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I at the site of a spring that was the only source of water supply to the village of Nazareth.
The water of the spring originates from a mountain known as Jabal as-Sikh and flows underground for 17 meters and emerges in the church. From there it continues to flow 130 meters further to surface at Mary's Well. This was the well from which Mother Mary and boy Jesus used to draw and drink water. But today, there is a nonfunctional structure rebuilt for the millennium celebrations of Nazareth in 2000.
The spring within the old chapel can be accessed from the present church by descending a few steps, and water can be drawn from it.
Another important center of pilgrimage is the Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation built over a cave which is believed to have been the house where Mary lived.