The Nazareth where Jesus grew up was an insignificant village nestled in a hollow in the Galilean hills. Today it is a city of 70,000 and is over two-thirds populated by Muslim Arabs.
Most people come to the city to see the Church of the Annunciation which approached via the Casa Nova street. The Church of Annunciation is the largest church in the Middle East and enshrines a small ancient cave dwelling or grotto identified by many Catholics as the home of Mary. Here it is believed that the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced (Annunciated) that she would conceive “and bear a son” and “call his name Jesus”. The grotto is located in the lower level of the church. Surrounding the courtyard of the church is artwork donated by Catholic communities around the world. In the courtyard a glass enclosed baptistery is built over what is thought to have been an ancient mikvah, a Jewish ritual immersion bath. The adjacent small Church of St. Joseph is built over rock chambers traditionally identified as the workshop of Joseph the Carpenter.
While we were there, we witnessed a wedding of Christian Arabs. Arabs account for approximately 20% of the Israeli population and some portion are Christian. It was amazing to watch such an multi-cultural event in Nazareth!