Holyland Trip Report – Israel –Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3)

Nazareth, a major cultural center with a population of 60,000 is the largest Arab city with a sizable Christian population. Plaza Hotel (4-star) in Nazareth lived up to its rating with a pleasant view overlooking the historical old city of Nazareth. The buffet spread was sumptuous with choices in beef, chicken, fish, salads, and desserts. The tour groups are served dinner together at a given time-slot. The breakfast buffet the following morning also had variety with yogurt, cheese, cereal, milk, rolls, and coffee – for the entire trip, theirs was the best coffee.

Jesus spent his boyhood days in Nazareth. Our first stop was at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation (announcement of the incarnation by the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary). In Nazareth there are 18 churches of the Annunciation. Eastern Orthodox believes this particular church is located over the spring where Mary first heard Gabriel’s voice. The church rebuilt in the 18th century has an underground chapel from the medieval era containing the spring. Mary’s well, done in 2000 and located 150 yards away, fed by the waters of this spring is a symbolic reconstruction of this. Located adjacent (650 m) is the Roman Catholic’s Church of the Annunciation which according to them is established at the site of the Annunciation. This large and impressive modern church referred to as the Basilica of the Annunciation designed by Italian architect Giovanni Musio and raised between 1959 and 1969 is over earlier Byzantine and Crusader-era churches. Its imposing dome dominates the Nazareth skyline and sports stained-glass windows throughout the bare stone walls. Inside its lower level is the Grotto of the Annunciation which the faithful believe as the remnant of the childhood home of Mary. The few dozen pictures donated by Christian communities around the world is definitely a joy to behold. Bordering the Basilica of the Annunciation and connected by a courtyard is St. Joseph’s Church, aka Joseph’s workshop. This church built in 1914 on the foundations of a Crusader church has a cavern in the basement believed to have been Joseph’s carpentry shop.

Twenty minutes north-east of Nazareth is the Church of Cana (Kafr Kanna also Khirbet Cana) where it is believed Jesus performed his first miracle – turning water into wine at a wedding. The location is disputed with Kafr Kanna being revered as the time-honored probable site as indicated by ancient graffiti. However, recent excavations have uncovered ruins of a Jewish village from the time of Jesus about a km away fueling speculation the biblical Cana location could be there. The present church built over an older church between 1879 and 1883 has two levels – the upper chapel has a beautiful dome and the lower chapel has ancient artifacts from the site including an old jar believed to be one among the six jars used for the miracle. A popular gift for folks back home is the wedding wine sold in souvenir bottles in the shop there – 200 ml bottles travel-packed in four for $10 along with bigger bottles and packs were available. Our tour group had thoughtfully arranged a “wedding vow renewal ceremony” at the courtyard of this church. About 30 minutes south of Cana is the approach road to Mount Tabor, the location of the Church of Transfiguration. The place also has the Eastern Orthodox monastery and offers breathtaking views of Jezreel Valley. Visit there can take more than half a day.

About 120 km (less than 2 hours) south-west of Cana on the Mediterranean Coast is Tel Aviv, an excellent modern city on par with European cities. Not being a religious city, it is natural to catch action during Sabbath. Our tour-bus rolled past Tel Aviv (beautiful beaches) into the old city of Jaffa and parked by a hill near the shore. Jaffa is one of the oldest port cities of the world known to have been inhabited from around 7,500 BC era. The promenade is wonderful with sweeping views of the Mediterranean and Tel Aviv. Jaffa is referenced multiple times in the Bible including St. Peter’s resurrection of the widow Tabitha in the New Testament (Acts of the Apostles 9:36-43). St. Peter’s Church of Jaffa (Japho also Joppa) is located there. The current church was built between 1888 and 1894 over a church first built in 1654 as dedication to St. Peter. The church with the bell tower positioned for seafarers serve as a beacon to locate the Holy Land. Jaffa also has importance because of the following four references in the Hebrew Bible:
  • One of the cities given to the Hebrew tribe of Dan (Book of Joshua 19:46),
  • Port of entry for the cedars of Lebanon for Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 2:15),
  • Jonah left for Tarshish from the port of Jaffa (Book of Jonah 1:3), and
  • Port of entry for the cedars of Lebanon for the second temple of Jerusalem (Book of Erza 3:7)
Bethlehem is around an hour south-east of Jaffa past Palestinian check-points in the Jerusalem border – giant separation walls dot the landscape around the area. Lunch in Bethlehem was at a buffet restaurant with a view and a respectable spread. The first stop in Bethlehem was at the Church of Nativity, one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world, believed to have been built over the cave that was the birthplace of Jesus. The first basilica was built by Queen Helena (mother of Emperor Constantine) around 327 AD but was burnt down in the Samaritan Revolt of 529 AD. The present structure built in 565 AD by the Emperor Justinian I is currently administered by three groups – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic authorities. The basilica is entered through the “Door of Humility”, an especially low door and features a striking variety of different lamps throughout. The grotto is approached through winding stairs and leads to the original place of birth beneath the altar – a silver star marks the spot believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. The star has 14 points; a symbolical representing 14 generations from creation to Abraham, Abraham to David, and from David to Jesus and to the left is a manger. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrating the midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the adjacent Church of St. Catherine is broadcast all over the world.

A few minutes walk from Manger Square is the Milk Grotto. It is believed a drop of milk fell on the stone while Mary was nursing Jesus and turned it white. Christians and Muslims both trust scrapings from the stones in the grotto enhance fertility. It is also supposed to be the burial site of Herod’s slaughter of male children. Next to Bethlehem is the Palestinian village of Beit Sahour where the Roman Catholics and the Greek Orthodox have their own Shepherds’ Fields. The modern Franciscan church is designed to resemble a shepherds’ tent while the Greek Orthodox site is a 5th century church built over a cave. The Greek Orthodox site has a total of five churches. The natural cave church dates back to the 4th century and is the earliest Christian structure on the site. 

The day wound up with some shopping time at a Christian store in Bethlehem. Pricing at the store was not exceptional. Better pricing can be found at the many curio factories around Bethlehem and for those savvy at bargaining, the street vendors are the best bet – case in point, the street vendors have menorahs priced from $5 to $10 depending on size compared to upwards of $30 for a good quality version at the store. Our stay for the next three nights was at the 7-Arches hotel located at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem – excellent location with a great view of the city – it is an older 3-star hotel. The dinner buffet menu was decent with good quality desserts and the coffee was average.




 Related Posts:

  1. Holyland Trip Report - Jordan - Mount Nebo, Madaba - Day 1.
  2. Holyland Trip Report – Israel - Yardenit, Tiberias, Tabgha, Cappernaum, Ginosar, Sea of Galilee (Day 2).
  3. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3).
  4. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Jerusalem (Day 4).
  5. Holyland Trip Report – Israel – Jerusalem, Jericho, Dead Sea (Day 5).
  6. Holyland Trip Report – Egypt – Red Sea, Sinai (Day 6).
  7. Holyland Trip Report – Suez Canal, Cairo - Day 7.
  8. Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8.
  9. Holyland Trip - Gotchas to avoid.  
  10. Holyland Trip - Jordan - Other Sites
Last Updated: 12/2012.

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