"A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house" (Mt 13:57; Mk 6:4; Lk 4:24; Jn 4:44).
Nazareth, also known as En Nasira or Japhia, is situated on the Nazareth Ridge some 1300 feet above sea level. It is 16 miles west of the Sea of Galilee and has expansive views across the valley.
During the life of Jesus, this was an isolated agricultural village with few inhabitants. Some say that as few as 150 people lived here during the days of Christ. Some scholars conclude that Nazareth was founded in 100 BC by a clan from the line of David who was returning from exile in Babylonia. However, ancient sources do not speak at all about Nazareth; we only hear of it in the New Testament.
The bible tells us that the angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary in Nazareth. Mary and Joseph then left the village and returned with baby Jesus. Christ spent his childhood in Nazareth with the Sacred Family, attending the synagogue, studying Torah and the Prophets and learning a trade. Joseph, his legal father, probably taught him carpentry, and some sources say that they could have also been stone masons who worked in the nearby town Sepphoris.
When Jesus Christ was 30 years old, he began his ministry and moved to Capernaum. He returned to Nazareth twice and preached in the synagogue but the townspeople were so outraged by his teachings, they tried to throw him off a cliff.
"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" This is Nathaniel speaking in John, 1:46 and the reference here is to the outright rejection to the teachings of Jesus by the people of Nazareth. The bible also tells us "he could do no mighty work there" (Mk 6:5). The people angrily demanded miracles as were done in Capernaum and Bethsaida. Bible studies reflect on how traumatic this must have been for Christ, Mary Mother of Jesus, Joseph and their children, Jesus’ brothers. After all, Jesus was being ostracized in his home town where everyone was related! Needless to say, Jesus did not return to Nazareth.
After the death of Jesus, the people of Nazareth are known to have kept a tradition alive about the house of the Annunciation. Legends about Mary and a spring with waters that miraculously heal inspired people to visit the site. Constantine in the fourth century established Nazareth as a center for Christian pilgrims and a Byzantine Church was built atop St. Mary’s Well but was later destroyed. Starting in the 17th century, the Franciscans came to Nazareth and soon transformed it into the largest Christian center in Israel.
In 1996, the Roman Catholic Church began work on a new basilica atop the site that is believed to be Mary’s home. Today it is the largest church in the Middle East, with visitors coming from around the world to admire its Christian art, especially the Madonna and Child mosaics and artistic interpretations of the annunciation. Remains of the original church can be seen in the gardens.
Visitors today can visit many churches in Nazareth that commemorate the life of Jesus. A Greek-Catholic Synagogue Church was built on the site of the original synagogue, the place where Jesus preached (Luke 4). St. Gabriel’s Church is set on an alternative site believed to be the place of the annunciation. And the location believed to be Saint Joseph’s workshop is commemorated in The Church of St. Joseph’s Carpentry. The Franciscan order runs the Mensa Christi Church, commemorating the location where Jesus dined with the Apostles after his resurrection.