by Frank Muller
We had the privilege of an extended tour of the Holy Land a few years back. One of the stops on the tour was of course Nazareth (predominately a Palestinian Arab town) with little remaining of its’ Jewish and Christian history and tradition.
However, what may remain though is the possible home of Jesus in Nazareth. This is a fascinating story of 1st Century Nazareth, rolling through the Early Church period (notably the first four centuries of Church Tradition), the Byzantine period, the Crusader period, The Muslim period and the 19th, 20th and 21st Century periods.
As so often is the case with history the archaeology remains buried but thanks to the work of a small group of nuns a remarkable discovery and preservation effort has happened. These nuns from France established in Nazareth a convent in 1881 near the rumored location of our Lord’s childhood home. By sheer luck during the construction of their convent there was discovered archaeological evidence of a prior structure at the location.
The sisters then began what is thought to be the very first all-female excavation and preservation team in archaeological history. These remarkable women have preserved for all of us a glimpse back into 1st Century Israel and later the Church that grew up inside this believed to be childhood home of our Lord. Is this Jesus’ home? No way to ever know definitively but it is certainly great and notable archeology, nonetheless.
Of course, Scripture points to Nazareth as Jesus’ home but archaeology has rendered a startling portrait of a town of stone masons in this desolate and empty part of Israel at the time. Having visited this convent and this location and this town in the hills of Judea it takes about twenty seconds to recognize that stonework and masonry is a still dominant feature of the town due to the type of land that is there.
Church Tradition has since the 4th Century referred to the Nazareth home of our Lord and mysteriously of a Church that was built within it though its’ exact location in Nazareth remained unknown for nearly eight centuries.
This Church was protected and nourished first by the Byzantine Catholics and later by the Crusaders who finally succumbed to the Muslim army in the 12th Century and from that point forward its history seemed to stop. Touchingly, one of those crusaders left his spurs inside the Church as a sacrifice for our Lord before the Crusaders then buried all in order to protect this cave home/church. Thus, we now know why the location of this church was a mystery for nearly 800 years just as those Crusaders intended.
These nuns began their own excavation adjacent to the current Catholic Church located nearby and they found the ancient 1st Century home carved into the hillside rock. They also found the shrine of that Early period Church still intact. Modern Archaeology powerfully shows this to be an early first century home and later a shrine.
Most strikingly, a tomb was found in the home containing the bones of a 1st Century Jew believed by some to be the remains of St. Joseph whom the family had interred there in the hillside tomb. Though science cannot prove that of course but the circumstantial evidence certainly raises merited speculation. For those interested in this archaeological tale, this history lesson of the area, and the marvelous work of 19th Century nuns in opening this treasure to the world I recommend this book for your enjoyment.
What is wonderful about Church history and its’ archeological and academic rigor of research; we therefore know a tremendous amount about the Church outside of Scripture. For those who reject science and reason and history and follow Scripture alone they are missing out on the fullness of the Faith.
There is only one Truth and approaching that Truth through revelation and reason deepens the Faith. It is also a Guidestone to daily living as we judge things by the moral good and Truth and reason things of this world through our minds, intellect and will. This unites the trinity of our lives. We are a composite of mind, body and spirit. Only when all three are unified do we find abiding Truth and Joy.
Peace be with us all.